Numsa strike rocks SA

2011-07-04 14:30

Several trade unions, representing an estimated 170?000 workers, started a countrywide strike in the engineering sector today to press for higher wages.

Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) braved the cold in Johannesburg for a march to demand a 13% pay hike, compared to the 7% offered by the employers, represented by the Steel Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa).

Workers, some wrapped in blankets, and many them wearing red Numsa t-shirts over bulky winter clothes, filled the square outside the Workers’ Library in Newtown where the peaceful march started.

Police kept an eye on the crowd as it was entertained with music played over a loud-speaker on the back of a bakkie.

The striking workers, who were also demanding the banning of labour brokers, received many messages of support.

The SA Communist Party said its leaders would participate in the march in solidarity with the engineering workers.

“It is time now that we decisively put capital on the back foot and undermine its growing arrogance and hold on the lives of ordinary South Africans,” the SACP said in a statement.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said: “We appeal to the employer bodies in the steel, engineering, paper, print and chemicals to accede to these reasonable demands.

“There should be no going back in our fight for a living wage. It is not negotiable to earn a decent wage, it is a ‘must deliver’,” said NUM general secretary Frans Baleni.

The SA Municipal Workers Union said the engineering workers’ demands were “both reasonable and necessary”.

Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said workers were striking in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town.

Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal workers would hold demonstrations today, while workers in the Free State and Northern Cape would start their work stoppage tomorrow.

Numsa, which represents about 120?000 workers, would be joined by five other trade unions representing at least another 50?000 workers.

According to Seifsa’s website, it had received strike notifications from the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu), and the Metal and Electrical Workers Union (Mewusa) and the United Association of SA (Uasa).

Uasa’s Johan van Niekerk said Solidarity and the SA Equity Workers Association (Saewa) would also participate.

“The employers’ salary offer did not meet our demands,” said Van Niekerk.

Seifsa, which did not respond to media enquiries, said in a notice on its website posted on Saturday: “Following eight separate days of formal negotiations by the full employer and trade union negotiating teams during May and June, followed by 11 days of intensive dispute resolution meetings of the appointed smaller committee ... the industry wage dispute still remains unresolved and the employer negotiating team has been unsuccessful in its attempts to avert an industry strike on terms acceptable to the employer parties.”

Ceppwawu plastics sector co-ordinator Clement Chitja said the six unions were working together.

“We all have the same common demands,” he said.

The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) today said that while wage negotiations were reaching the “power play stage”, it was confident an agreement would be reached.

“The council has urged all employers to follow the industry-accepted principle of ‘no work, no pay, no discipline’ in the event of protected industrial action.”

The bargaining council said it had received notices of intended lock-out action from Seifsa.

The strike started today after the Labour Court’s weekend dismissal of an application for an interdict to stop the strike, brought by the Plastic Converters’ Association.

“The Labour Court decision effectively upholds the right of all employees and employers in the industry to engage in protected industrial action today in the metal and engineering industry,” the MEIBC said.

Seifsa represents 28 employer organisations. In a notice posted on its website in May, it said the metal industry’s four-year wage and conditions of employment agreement would expire on June 30.

The agreement covered 9?000 companies and about 348?000 workers.

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