‘Workers on legally protected strikes shot and detained!’ – SAFTU

Striking Amcu Sibanye-Stillwater miners rally for a secondary strike after marching on the Mineral Council of South Africa and in Johannesburg
Striking Amcu Sibanye-Stillwater miners rally for a secondary strike after marching on the Mineral Council of South Africa and in Johannesburg

AROUND 150 workers from Dis-Chem and Blue Ribbon Bakeries, as well as union officials, marched to Cape Town central police station last Wednesday to protest about recent police treatment of strikers.

They also marched to the Department of Labour. The marchers, from the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and two of its affiliates, the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the National Union of Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NUPSAW), handed in a memorandum calling for an official investigation into police behaviour, and for the Department of Labour to intervene in Dis-Chem and Blue Ribbon Bakeries.

Workers from both companies have been on strike since December. Dis-Chem workers from NUPSAW are demanding a minimum wage of R12,500, an annual increase of 12.5% and a guaranteed annual bonus. Blue Ribbon workers from FAWU are demanding a 10% salary increase and funeral cover.

Meanwhile, SAFTU provincial secretary Andre Adams has said workers on legally protected strikes had been ‘shot at and detained’. On 20 December the unions handed in the same memorandum at the police station and the department.

They had said that if their demands were not met they would march every month. Zwelandile Jamda, a security guard at Dis-Chem, told GroundUp that police had ‘beaten up’ protesting workers in Canal Walk on 5 December. But attempts to get comment from Dis-Chem or from Novela Potelwa, the spokesperson for SAPS in the Western Cape, were unsuccessful.

Then last Tuesday, 22 January, The Citizen reported that labour inspections were to be conducted at all Mugg & Bean outlets, according to the Bargaining Council for the Restaurant, Catering and Allied Trades. This followed The Citizen’s report on the plight of waitrons at various franchises in Johannesburg.

Maggie Pooe, the council’s general secretary, said the inspections were to ensure compliance to the council’s collective agreement rules. Trade union federation Cosatu has demanded answers from the body following the report, and the two bodies were understood to be in continuous engagement on the matter.

The federation was outraged by allegations that waitrons were made to pay a breakage fee among other deductions, despite not earning an actual salary. According to the council, a deduction is only permitted with the written consent of the employee.

More waitrons have since complained to The Citizen, suggesting that even more Mugg & Bean outlets were breaking labour regulations and alleging that they did not earn a minimum wage.

According to the council, employees can be remunerated on a commission, but such a remuneration cannot be less than the minimum wage rate prescribed by the council. As of July last year, this amounted to R20.50 an hour. Last week, the franchisers effectively denied responsibility for the practices of their franchisees, saying all Mugg & Bean outlets were obliged to comply with the law. But one waitron’s account of working conditions at a Mugg & Bean near Midrand painted a bleak picture of what waitrons have endured there over the past year.

‘For starters, on Sundays we have to arrive at 6.15am to scrub the restaurant, for free. We only start trading at 7am. We also pay breakage and the runner as well.’ The waitron, whose identity is known to The Citizen but is being kept confidential as the person fears a backlash, said staff had to pay a R10 breakage free every day they work.

‘Saturday and Sunday, we also have to contribute R15 each day to pay a runner. We get paid 3% commission only. We don’t get Sundays or public holiday benefits. ‘Our average monthly salary is between R1,100 and R1,500. If you are fortunate enough you get up to 1,800.’ The restaurant apparently makes roughly R400,000 to R500,000 monthly and waiters’ sales went up to about R60,000.

Waitrons in this establishment, according to the source, did not have a specific pay day. ‘We only receive our salaries on or after the 5th of every month. If you ask about the late payment, you get told that you’re making tips every day, stop complaining.’

Complaints relayed to The Citizen suggest that the problem went further than just Mugg & Bean. One former employee of a well-known chain restaurant in Boksburg said their experience was nothing short of slave labour. ‘No labour laws are being practised there. And the worst part is that foreigners without papers are being used. If you report these guys to the labour department nothing happens,’ he said.

While the prescribed minimum wage for the restaurant and catering industry was R20.50 per hour, the average income for a waitron in South Africa was R15 per hour, according to PayScale. Last week The Citizen reported on Mugg & Bean waitrons, who did not receive salaries but were paid a 3% commission, leaving the waitron to carry the risk of not earning a minimum wage every month.

Meanwhile, the standoff between Sibanye Stillwater and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) appears nowhere near to being resolved – and the looming secondary strike at the mine’s platinum operations in Rustenburg may have a devastating knock-on effect on investor sentiment rather than on immediate economic performance.

Last Friday, Sibanye applied for an interdict to stop the secondary strike. Amcu members in Sibanye’s gold operations in Beatrix, Kloof and Driefontein downed tools in November over wage demands. Earlier this month, the union also delivered notice of its intention to embark on a secondary strike in support of the current industrial action.

Late last year, Sibanye signed a wage deal with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the United Association of SA (Uasa) and Solidarity that offered increases of R700 a month in the first and second years, and R825 a month in the third year to some categories of employees. Amcu wants a R1,000 annual hike over three years.

According to Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, the current strike at Sibanye’s gold operations will continue, with the secondary strike scheduled to begin in the platinum sector tomorrow. Mathunjwa denied that the union walked out of the verification process conducted by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) this week, saying Amcu members would not participate, pending the union’s appeal of a Labour Court decision, taken in December.

In that judgment, the Labour Court ordered the CCMA to facilitate an independent membership verification process to determine which union, between Amcu and the NUM, held the majority at Sibanye. According to Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted, Amcu staged a walkout from the CCMA verification process last week.

Wellsted said the company was confident that the three unions which had signed the wage offer represent more than 50% of the workers and that Amcu was simply attempting to delay the conclusion of the strike. ‘We will oppose Amcu’s attempts to avoid this necessary verification process. We are not surprised by Amcu’s behaviour and we have considered other legal alternatives, which we will now pursue,’ he said.

By law, the agreement of the majority representatives with the employer binds the minority. ‘We are appealing a portion of the Labour Court judgment because of the scope of verification from November 23 to December 13,’ said Mathunjwa.

‘If those dates are used, it excludes all the debits that we have been asking the company to do from earlier in the year which the company has been neglecting. We have been complaining to Sibanye to update and process our members, but it has not. We even had meetings in October.’

Mathunjwa said two Amcu members had died since the start of the strike and 82 more members had been arrested, allegedly for picketing, and banned from the hostel. The union has since had to dip into its coffers to provide accommodation for the members. He also said that the union had already served notice for a secondary strike in the platinum sector. Wellsted said most of Amcu’s members are in the platinum sector and at Sibanye’s platinum operations.

Mathunjwa said the union has about 15,000 platinum sector members and 12,700 members at Sibanye’s gold operations alone. According to Wellsted, before the strike started, Amcu and the NUM had 43% membership apiece, but the NUM had since gained more members. However, the picture is different in Sibanye’s platinum operations, where Amcu boasts a majority of 71% membership among the workforce.

The NUM said that in September it had 14,259 members, while Amcu had 14,165 members in the gold sector, meaning that no union had an outright majority.