Strike Wave Spreading In South Africa

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A STRIKE wave is spreading throughout South Africa as concrete workers, Telecom workers and miners are locked into escalating struggles against ruthless employers that are in fact backed up by the ANC government.

Male and female workers employed by Mmabatho crushers, which makes concrete products, have been out on strike since August 18th against the appalling conditions in the factory, where many workers have suffered injuries. Female employees, who are packing the bricks and are being paid 14R (about 78p) per pallet and all workers have no basic salary, no safety clothing.

This company has existed for more than 30 years but workers are still not registered to the Department of Labour (UIF) and are also not entitled to sick leave, annual leave or maternity leave. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the North West supports the demands of NUM members at Mmabatho Crushers in Mafikeng.

COSATU stated on Tuesday: ‘COSATU regards the working conditions as an extreme form of exploitation of workers. COSATU North West will embark on action as part of implementing our decent jobs campaign. We will march to the company to enforce compliance on workers’ conditions of employment in line with Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

‘We will hand over our memorandum to Mmabatho Crushers, Department of Labour and Department of Mineral Resources. COSATU North West will be supporting NUM to take the company head-on on failing to compensate all employees injured whilst on duty.’

Meanwhile, members of the Eastern Cape Unemployed Workers Union filled the Orient Theatre last on Monday afternoon to await an address by social development minister Bathabile Dlamini. Members who took to the floor to air their grievances said they were vexed with corruption in the ANC leadership and disgruntled with the candidate lists drawn up in the recent local government elections.

About 500 people, cheered as community members took the microphone. The minister, who was scheduled to arrive at 1pm, had still not made an appearance by 2.40pm. According to the national president of the South African Unemployed Workers Union Jabu Ntusi, President Jacob Zuma had been invited to the event, but had sent Dlamini in his place.

Ntusi said the union wanted to take a firm stand against the ANC’s policy of ‘imposing’ election candidates on communities. He said many ANC members had chosen not to vote as a result. ”Our leaders are so arrogant, especially secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who is very, very arrogant. We don’t need such behaviour here, because it divides society.’

He said the union had wanted to ask President Zuma why no jobs in a tourism safety initiative launched two years ago had materialised. ‘It was supposed to provide 3,000 jobs over five years, but not even one job has started.’

Meeting participant Sibulele Matsha said members of the Unemployed Workers Union were deeply unhappy with Mantashe. ‘He is the root of the problem because he had the power to change candidates and he imposed candidates the people do not know.’

Dressed in a sharp olive green military-style uniform and maroon beret emblazoned with a red star logo reading ‘Provincial Tourism Safety Unit’, Matsha said he had attended tourism safety training in Coffee Bay in 2012, but no job had materialised. ‘We just received this uniform and training, but then there were no jobs and no salaries.’

Unemployed Workers Union member Nomfundo Zinto said members were fed up with corruption in local ANC structures. This is about the issue of the candidates who were selected by the ANC and not by the people,’ said Zinto.

• South African workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have threatened to intensify their strike if Telkom doesn’t pay striking employees. Earlier this month, about 870 CWU workers to the union went on strike over a wage dispute.

The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) says if Telkom persists with the ‘no-work-no-pay policy,’ the strike will escalate. On Monday, Telkom released a statement warning that workers who downed tools on 1 August will not be paid on 25 August. Telkom’s Gugulethu Maqetuka says they have communicated with employees that they won’t be paid if they have not reported for work.  

He says the company still needs to do a manual audit that will help distinguish between those who were off sick and those who are on strike. Maqetuka says the strikers will be paid by September 7 once the audit has been concluded.

 

However, the CWU’s Aubrey Tshabalala says by not paying workers on time, Telkom is violating its contractual obligation. It shows you how violent they can be in terms of violating workers’ contracts,’ Tshabalala says.

l COSATU has warned Northam Platinum against victimising NUM members. 7,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), marched to Northam Platinum on Friday, fighting against victimisation and illegal suspension of the union members.

COSATU said: ‘The intransigence and the blatant arrogance of the mine management at Northam is unacceptable and will end up poisoning the relations between NUM and AMCU members.

‘We are calling on them to respect the peace accord that was signed by workers and also stop recognising unions that are not fully represented in the mine. COSATU is appalled by this cynical project that is driven by the Northam Platinum management to create a toxic environment amongst the workers.

‘This is done so as to create discord amongst workers, but also to undermine, weaken and ultimately liquidate the NUM. The federation takes exception to the haughty attitude that has been demonstrated by the mine management towards the NUM.

‘This is happening barely four years after the tragic events at Marikana that saw workers turning on each other and also resulted in many of them losing their lives. The Northam Platinum management needs to stop their divisive tendencies or COSATU will consider shutting down the mine until they can prove that they are genuine in maintaining peace and stability in the mine.

‘COSATU will do everything possible to help prevent any further deaths in the mining sector and we will not hesitate from targeting and shutting down those mines that are trying to foster discord and violence in the workplace.

‘We will not allow these exploiters to make their blood-soaked profits on the backs of workers’ lives. The union membership and sectarian differences should never be allowed to create more orphans and cost workers their lives.

‘We are calling for calm and are urging workers to refuse to be a pawn in a dangerous game by these gluttonous mine owners and managers. We promise to defend our affiliate the NUM against these ongoing attacks and victimisation of its members and leaders.

‘We recommit ourselves to working hard to improve the service to our members, including fighting any attempts by employers and other expedient groups to promote employer unilateralism and the fragmentation of worker power.

‘COSATU will continue to strive to unite all workers in the struggle against poverty and exploitation, and for safe working conditions, decent and quality jobs, comprehensive social security and comprehensive social services.

‘The NUM has made huge strides over its 30 years of existence to improve the pay and conditions of mine workers. The union has fought against tribal factionalism, the physical abuse of workers, and dismissals without hearings that were prevalent in the mining sector. We will not allow the liquidation of the NUM and we will also ensure that workers are not divided by those who are against the transformation of the mining sector.’

• South African petrochemical workers have won their three-week strike. On 17 August, the Chemical Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), an IndustriALL South African affiliate, signed a new two-year agreement with the National Petroleum Employers’ Association.

The deal is the culmination of a three-week strike that started on 28 July and was supported by some 15,000 petroleum workers at refineries, including the biggest owned by Chevron, Shell, BP and Sasol.

The strike affected the fuel supply in Gauteng province, where two of the country’s most important cities are located, the capital Pretoria and the largest city Johannesburg, the industrial hub of the country.

Although the quantitative effect of the strike was not extremely high, the strike forced the employers to apply contingency measures to prevent fuel disruption across the country. The initial workers’ demand included a nine per cent wage increase, to compensate for the current inflation rate of 6.3 per cent.

According to the new agreement, the employers will pay a seven per cent raise this year and a 1.5 per cent hike next year. Workers will receive their increase starting from July. Workers returned to their workplaces on Monday.

Commenting on the reached agreement CEPPWAWU chief negotiator, Jerry Nkosi said: ‘The strike was generally successful and finished with workers’ victory and improved working conditions.’