Solidarity union Save Our Steel Campaign roadshow in Pretoria

TRADE UNION Solidarity on Friday said that it regrets the retrenchment crisis at ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA), warning that if key players in the steel industry do not intervene urgently, these retrenchments may be the first of many to follow.

Multinational steel manufacturing company AMSA said on Wednesday it was mulling a large-scale restructuring exercise which might affect more than 2,000 jobs, citing a difficult domestic economic environment.

In a trading statement, the company said certain costs that were not within its control such as high electricity, rail, port and primary raw material costs had contributed to its challenges.

Although it had embarked on several initiatives to improve efficiencies and address expenditure within its control, these cost-saving initiatives would not be sufficient. More significant measures had become necessary, including the review of staffing levels.

Marius Croucamp, deputy general secretary of Solidarity, attributed these impending retrenchments to Eskom rising electricity tariffs and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), saying the energy regulator did not pay attention to the steel giant’s cries for help.

‘We warned Nersa that this increase will destroy the industry. Yet, they continued and now the employees must suffer the cost,’ he said.

Croucamp also said the recent implementation of a carbon tax placed the industry under more pressure and that it also plays a major role in the retrenchments AMSA is currently facing.

‘The timing of the institution was completely wrong because South Africa cannot afford it at the moment. Higher input costs in the steel industry, which is already under enormous pressure, will necessarily lead to job losses,’ he said.

‘Solidarity will do everything in its power to ensure that its members affected by this process receive the proposed severance benefits and the necessary support during this difficult time.

‘All stakeholders should urgently intervene; otherwise, more and more companies will have to face retrenchments. Solidarity asks the government to fulfil its duties and to ensure that companies can sustainably survive in South Africa.’

  • State-run logistics company Transnet has suspended several employees for taking part in a protracted and unprotected ‘go-slow’ which has severely impacted operations at the Ngqura Container Terminal in the Eastern Cape, hitting auto manufacturing and citrus exports, among others. It remains to be seen if this will quell the disruption or trigger unrest against the backdrop of reports of intimidation on the shop floor.

Transnet said on Thursday 11th July that it had taken action to quell an unfolding mutiny that has disrupted port activity at its Ngqura Container Terminal.

In a statement sent to Business Maverick, the SOE said it had ‘… suspended a number of employees at its Ngqura Container Terminal for engaging in an illegal industrial action which has had a negative impact on port operations. The illegal industrial action, which is being carried out by employees, is having a negative impact on all customers serviced by the port, particularly the citrus and automotive customers.’

Transnet also said it had established a ‘daily command centre manned by national and local leadership to closely monitor performance’, in the wake of the action, which has spread beyond the Eastern Cape.

‘Operations at the Durban Container Terminal have also been affected by equipment failure and high-level absenteeism. Furthermore, the decline in performance levels at the Cape Town Container Terminal has been noted,’ Transnet said.

The company also provided some detail, albeit scant, for the first time about the nature of the dispute, which has been rumbling for some time and was first reported several days ago in the industry online news site Freight and Trading Weekly (FTW).

‘Amongst a list of demands, workers are demanding an incentive,’ it said. FTW reported last week that the dispute stemmed from the alleged non-payment of bonuses.

Zanele Sabela, spokesperson for the Cosatu-aligned Satawu trade union, told Business Maverick that the go-slow had not been sanctioned by the union and that its members were not involved.

Another union source said there were reports of widespread intimidation to get workers to ‘go slow’ but it remained unclear who was behind the action.

If intimidation has been used, there is the potential that Transnet’s move could trigger further unrest. Similar scenarios have unfolded before in South Africa’s often turbulent labour environment.

The go-slow has already taken a bite out of the crucial auto-making sector. Volkswagen South Africa spokesperson Andile Dlamini told Business Maverick that on Wednesday 10th July it lost 400 production units because it cannot get the imported parts it needs. That is well over half of its average production of 680 units per day.

  • The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in KZN wants security guards in schools to be provided with metal detectors and panic buttons.

Security in schools in the province was one of the main issues discussed by 256 delegates during the union’s provincial general council in Durban recently.

Sadtu’s provincial general council was held a week after grade 7 Masuku Primary School teacher Sibon-akaliso Nyawose was gunned down as he arrived at the Folweni school, south of Durban.

The murder of the maths teacher raised questions about security in schools, with provincial education MEC Kwazi Mshengu telling mourners at Nyawose’s funeral that his department needed more funding to deploy more security guards at schools and also to provide fencing for all schools in the province.

Sadtu’s provincial secretary, Nomarashiya Caluza, told a media briefing in Durban last Wednesday that the union supported the appointment of 3,267 security guards in schools. However, she said security guards should be properly trained and provided with some tools of the trade to help them do their jobs.

‘The provision of security guards doesn’t guarantee the safety of teachers and learners. Give them minimum tools, like metal detectors and panic buttons,’ said Caluza.

Meanwhile, a security guard who was shot in the chest at Folweni High School in Durban last month died on Saturday.

A number KZN teachers have been killed inside school premises despite the presence of security guards.

A deputy principal of Laduma High School in Pietermaritzburg was gunned down in front of her grade 12 pupils during weekend lessons in 2017.

In 2015, a teacher and a pupil were killed after a gunman opened fire in a classroom at Luvisi Primary School in Nquthu, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

However, Sadtu did not support a call by the Educators Union of SA for teachers to be allowed to bring guns to school to protect themselves in the wake of the killings.

‘It must clear that as Sadtu we don’t support that teachers must carry guns in schools. We’re not in military schools and we’re not in America. We’re in SA, we’re in KwaZulu-Natal,’ Caluza of Sadtu said.

She also revealed that they had received a letter this week from a teacher from Umbumbulu, south-west of Durban, who informed them that he feared for his life. However, Caluza would not divulge more details.

A teacher died after multiple bullets were fired at him by a gunman during school hours last Tuesday morning.

Sadtu, working with the National Association of School Governing Bodies and the Congress of SA Students, will convene a school safety summit tomorrow to explore how schools can be made safer.

Caluza said they had invited all relevant departments and traditional leaders to deal with the issue of security in schools and to interrogate the draft provincial strategy on school safety.

The provincial education department’s multi-pronged plan to fight crime in schools includes working closely with police and school governing bodies.

But Sadtu was critical of the department for devising a strategy on school safety without consulting the union.

‘We’re a union that subscribes to the slogan ‘nothing for/about us without us’, because it is always problematic to have people who are not threatened by violence, nor the killing of their colleagues and comrades, having to develop a tool to curb these actions without touching base with those (affected by) bullying, violent crime, including murders of teachers and learners … ,’ said Caluza.

  • Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has said during his budget speech vote that the planned projects would involve exploration, expansion, new mines and processing plants which would be resuscitated to capture at least 5 per cent of the $10bn (R141.8bn) a year global industry.

Mantashe said the industry was not on its deathbed, and the government was willing to invest more in the sector.

‘Mining is a sunrise industry,’ Mantashe said. ‘We must prospect, explore and exploit the world-class mineral deposits we have. We will resuscitate green field exploration. The investment will attract a minimum of R8bn into the exploration sector.’

Mantashe acknowledged the tough times facing the industry, citing the economy’s 3.2 per cent contraction in the first quarter of 2019.

He said mining production fell 10.8 per cent during the quarter, contributing 0.8 per cent to the overall decline which was prompted by, among other things, load shedding, electricity pricing and a five-month-long strike in the gold sector.

Mantashe said employment figures for the quarter, however, looked positive.

‘Of the 22 000 jobs created, 6,000 are in mining,’ he said. ‘We are talking to the industry to sustain these positive indications. Significant investments totalling R45bn and creating an estimated 4,000 permanent jobs, poured into the sector in the past year. Among them: R21.8bn by Vedanta Resources in the Northern Cape, Sasol’s R14bn mine replacement programme at Shondoni and Impumelelo in Mpumalanga, and Exxaro’s R3.3bn mine investment in Belfast, Mpumalanga.’

The state has set aside R20 million in the current financial year to develop an integrated licensing system over the coming two years.

Mantashe said significant strides had been made in processing the backlog in licence applications which collapsed under his predecessor, Mosebenzi Zwane, in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West regions.

‘These offices have now been reopened. Turnaround times to process licence applications are under review,’ he said. ‘Time-frames must be short, without having to effect major legislative amendments, by adopting more effective and efficient internal processes. This will ensure that we are more responsive to the needs and requirements of our applicants.’

Mantashe said beneficiation efforts for local communities were under way, with state-owned Mintek spearheading the process to develop a rare earth element manufacturing industry expected to meet the global demand for rare earth elements used in applications for electric vehicles and wind turbine generators.

He said following an initial investment of R100m, the government was investing an additional R150m to revive the declining ferroalloys sector.