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The News Line: Feature University, health & shopworkers strike in SA – Rubber bullets fired at warehouse strikers EXAMS at the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in South Africa’s Western Cape have been postponed due to an on-going strike by workers.

Unions representing staff are demanding an 8% wage increase while management is offering 6.3%.
The National Health Education and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU)’s Mcebisi Jojo says the union is not sure how long the strike will go on for. He said: ‘From the arrogance that we are getting from (WSU vice-chancellor) Rob Midgley, it seems as if the strike could take a very long time. ‘He must come back so that we can talk quickly, we are open for engagements. ‘It’s not like we want to be on strike for the sake of being on strike, but we want to reach an agreement.’

The anger of low paid workers also erupted at a Johannesburg hospital last week. The Charlotte Maxeke Hospital said on Friday that communication between employees and management should be improved following a strike at the health institution. The hospital’s management has expressed its disappointment over Thursday’s protest when angry workers demonstrated along the hallways of the hospital.

Last Thursday, angry workers demonstrated in the hospital over unpaid bonuses.
Hospital spokesperson Lungiswa Mvumvu said, ‘There should be improvement on how our principles address some of the challenges employees have.’ The workers union NEHAWU lambasted the health department’s ‘arrogance and intransigence (that) led to this situation’, which could’ve been finalised in March.

While an agreement was reached yesterday between the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and the Gauteng department of health ending the three-day crippling strike over unpaid performance bonuses to employees at Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, the union said the matter could have been resolved months ago.

Speaking after a meeting with the provincial health department, at which it was agreed to finally pay the outstanding bonuses for the 2016-2017 financial year to health workers, NEHAWU provincial secretary Tshepo Mokheranyana lambasted the public employer for its ‘tendency of failing workers’. He said: ‘The department’s arrogance and intransigence led to this situation at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. ‘Had they addressed this matter in March, when we marched to their offices, we would have stability.’

Asked why it took the provincial department two months to resolve the performance bonus impasse, Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa’s spokesperson Khutso Rabothata said: ‘We delayed because there were processes that were being engaged.’ In terms of the agreement, a special multilateral meeting will be convened by this week to finalise the bonus deal, with a payment date to be announced on Tuesday. The department gave reassurances at Friday’s meeting that the bonuses would be paid this month, paving the way for employees to return to work on Saturday
NEHAWU described the agreement as ‘a victory for our members and workers’.

The settlement came about after the union ‘ferociously pushed the department to pay all qualifying workers their bonuses,’ NEHAWU said in a statement. It added: ‘NEHAWU will continue to push the department to respond comprehensively to the memorandum of demands submitted by the union on March 16. ‘Our members are highly incensed at the department’s refusal to respond to the demands in the memorandum as it has an adverse effect on service delivery.’

Meanwhile, striking Umzimkhulu Superspar shopworkers said last Friday they will not return to work if management is reluctant to meet their demands. It has been over a month since workers under the South African Commercial, Catering, and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) have downed tools for wage increment.

Staff claim that management had failed to pay a 5% increase as promised. They also accused management of unequal treatment among workers. Shop steward Bekezela Chiya said that workers are not violent towards the property of the store.

‘We chant songs outside the store from 8am and leave after four hours. We then return the next day. We are peaceful, we are not fighting with management,’ said Chiya. Striking workers who are casual employees want to be employed permanently as they have been employed as casuals for over five years.

Workers said that they expected to get paid last Friday and would intensify their strike if this does not happen. Separately, food retail company Shoprite has been accused of using ‘dirty tricks’ when dealing with striking workers at its Centurion warehouse.

In a video, thousands of workers can be seen running into the veld as what appears to be private security guards fire rounds of rubber bullets into a crowd. Ephraim Mphahlele, National Transport Movement Union (NTM) general secretary, said: ‘They are using private security and shooting at employees. Some were wounded that day.’ He is representing some of the workers in wage negotiations with the retailer.

Mphahlele said around 2,000 staff had downed tools in demand of better wages and working conditions.
He said: ‘They want R12,000, they want the company to provide them with medical aid, a provident fund and a night shift allowance.’
The union leader also accused Shoprite of having an anti-worker attitude and doing all it could to show this.
The NTM general secretary said: ‘They want to hurt workers who are just engaging in a noble fight for their rights. ‘To them, we are just workers and nothing more.’ One truck driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed with Mphahlele’s views.

He said: ‘To us, Shoprite doesn’t care about our well-being or even the struggles we endure every day, just as long as you contribute to their product and make them money.’ He said there were in fact two shooting incidents, explaining that the first happened after dark on Wednesday and the other around 17:30 on Thursday afternoon.

He added: ‘That day they shot at us, they were assisted by police. ‘The way I see it, this was an attempt to protect the workers who betrayed us and refused to participate in the strike. ‘They wanted us out of the way, so they could go home. ‘As long as their production continues, they don’t care. To them, we are just workers and nothing more.’

Shoprite said: ‘Employees from a service provider have been striking at the distribution centre in Centurion since 23 May 2018. ‘Police on the scene took control of the situation, giving effect to a court order being disregarded.’
 
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