Strikers' use of violence 'deplorable'

As the engineering sector strike entered its fifth day, several acts of violence and intimidation were allegedly committed by striking workers, the Steel and Engineering Industries’ Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) said on Friday.

“It is reprehensible that the strikers find it necessary to use these types of intimidatory and illegal tactics to gain support and maintain momentum for their strike and that the union leadership appears to remain silent in its condemnation of this deplorable behaviour,” Seifsa executive director David Carson said in a statement.

Incidents reported included trespassing on private property in search of non-striking workers, malicious damage to company premises and private property, stone throwing, breaking down of company gates and unlawfully blocking access to factory premises.

Leaders from Seifsa and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) were meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the acts of violence and to consider a way forward, Carson said.

“A possible outcome of today’s meeting may be that Seifsa and all the trade unions currently in dispute meet this weekend to explore available options to bring the current dispute to an end.”

Ekurhuleni metro police said nine Numsa members were arrested for public violence in Germiston on Thursday.

Constable Mashudu Phatela said they were allegedly burning tyres and throwing stones at passing motorists.

‘Drastic action’
Numsa said these reports were an attempt by “some elements” to sabotage the industrial action.

Four Numsa members were injured after police fired rubber bullets during a strike in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg on Thursday, national Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese said.

The four were admitted in hospital and a case had been opened at a local police station.

The union also claimed that there were incidents where police had intimidated, harassed, shot at and arrested strikers in Bellville and in Germiston.

Numsa was calling for “drastic action” to be taken against the police, Ngobese said.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) on Friday condemned the shooting of the four strikers, allegedly by police.

“We demand that the SAPS [South African Police Service] apply the same standards and condemn the growing trend by some trigger-happy officers to resort to the use of teargas, rubber bullets and even live ammunition in the course of demonstrations,” national spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement.

Craven said before unions embarked on strikes and protests there had to be consultation between police and union leaders to reach an agreement on ground rules, and these had to then be adhered to by both sides.

Wage demands
This would enable the law to be enforced without attacking workers’ constitutional right to march and picket.

Several trade unions, representing about 170 000 workers, started a countrywide strike in the engineering sector on Monday to press for better wages.

Workers gave their employers until the end of Thursday to respond to their wage demands. Union leaders would meet with employees over the weekend, Ngobese said.

Numsa was joined by five other trade unions: the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu), and the Metal and Electrical Workers’ Union (Mewusa), United Association of SA (Uasa), Solidarity and the SA Equity Workers’ Association (Saewa).

The trade unions are demanding wage increases ranging from 10% to 13%.

Ngobese said no negotiations or talks had taken place since Monday.

Seifsa said it could not afford the wage increases the unions wanted. Employers in the sector have offered 7%.—Sapa

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