/ 1 September 2010

Strike season in full swing

Paralysing public-sector strikes are entering their third week, but things are no better in the private sector.

While the government has put a new offer on the table and a resolution looks set to be reached this week, reports are increasing of tools being downed from petrol attendants to platinum miners in the private sector.

The sudden proliferation of industrial action may have taken the public by surprise, but has been a long time in coming, say unions, given the postponement during the Soccer World Cup. In addition, many three-year wage agreements between companies and their employees lapsed this year and now need to be renegotiated.

But who is actually on strike and what are they demanding? We round up private-sector strike action across the country.

Metal workers
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has successfully negotiated wage increases for workers in most of the sectors where it is represented. In late August, following an eight-day strike by 31 000 workers in the automobile manufacturing sector, Numsa concluded negotiations with employers at the country’s seven car manufacturers, including Ford, BMW and Toyota. The 10% increase and ban on labour brokers won by workers was considered a good agreement.

But it is still bargaining for workers in the tyre and motor industries. Workers in the tyre industry manufacture new tyres while the motor industry includes a range of workers such as petrol-pump attendants, panel beaters, staff at new and used car dealerships and workers who manufacture car components, such as steering wheels and safety belts. The demands made of employers differ slightly but both groups are seeking improved working conditions and a ban on the use of labour brokers.

Tyre industry

  • How many: 7 000 workers since Monday August 30
  • What do they get: A minimum of R5 993 a month
  • What they want: A one-year wage agreement with an 11% increase. Failing that, they would accept a three-year agreement with 11%, 12% and 14% in the first, second and third years respectively.
  • What’s on the table: 8,5% in the first year and 5% in the second and third years.

Motor industry

  • How many: 40 000 workers since Wednesday September 1
  • What do they get: A minimum of R1 368 a month
  • What they want: A 15% increase generally and R20 per hour minimum wage for petrol attendants
  • What’s on the table: 6%

Mine workers
Mine workers are on strike at two mines this week, according to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with a third set to join them on Monday. NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the strikes were separate to the public-sector strikes and part of normal negotiations. The union, which oversees workers in the critical sectors of mining, construction and electricity, was going to embark on a solidarity strike with the public-sector workers but suspended the action in light of the new offer from government on Monday.

Exarro Sands in KwaZulu-Natal

  • How many? 600 mine workers since Monday August 23
  • What do they get? Between R3 000 and R4 000 per month and no housing allowance
  • What do they want? 14% increase for the year and a R2 000 housing allowance
  • What’s on the table? 8% for two years

Richards Bay Minerals (RBM)

  • How many? 1 700 mine workers since Friday 27 August.
  • What do they get? Between R3 000 and R4 000 per month, and between R3 200 and R5 500 as a living allowance (housing and transport allowance).
  • What do they want? 10% demand for the year and a living allowance of between R4 000 and R6 000.
  • What’s on the table? 8% for three years, with a maximum increase of 6% in the second and third year.

Northam Platinum

  • How many? 8 000 mine workers from Monday.
  • What do they get? Between R3 000 and R4 000 per month and a living allowance of R1 600
  • What do they want? 15% demand for the year and a living allowance of R3 500
  • What’s on the table? 8% for two years and a living allowance of R1 700

Other action
This week Saccawu announced that it is considering strike action after failing to resolve a wage dispute with Pick n Pay. If the parties do not come to an agreement in the next two weeks, 25 000 workers could go on strike nationwide. Workers are demanding a one-year wage agreement rather than a three-year agreement, a minimum number of guaranteed hours for part-time workers, a 10% staff discount on basic food stuffs and a R550 or 12% across the board increase, whichever is greater.

Solidarity strikes
The public-sector strikes left schools and hospitals paralysed for the past two weeks, but negotiations have resumed and unions will decide on government’s new offer of a 7,5% salary increase and R800 monthly housing allowance. The unions wanted an 8,6% increase and R1 000 monthly housing allowance. A number of other unions are downing tools in solidarity with the about 1,3-million workers employed by government.

  • The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu): The private-sector union has 70 000 factory workers producing petrol, paper and pharmaceuticals for companies like Nampak, Shell, Caltex, Sasol, Sappi and Aspen Pharmacare. “We will strike from tomorrow [Thursday] if there is no settlement,” said its deputy general secretary, Thabane Mdlalose.
  • The South African Municipal Workers union (Samwu): the largest local government union will decide whether to strike by the end of Wednesday, based on the progress of the government’s wage negotiations with public-sector unions. Its 150 000 workers work in refuse removals, water supply and the metro police, among other local government services.
  • The Communication Workers’ Union announced its support of the public-sector workers at a press conference on Wednesday. The union, which has more than 1 500 workers just at the SABC, said it believed the 8,6% demanded by workers was too low, spokesperson Matankana Mothapo said.