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South Africa: Why we're fighting on
Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary

July 10, 2011
View the Original Article


The wage battle is not over until it's over

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) National Executive Committee (NEC) that was held today Sunday 10 July 2011 took stock of the NUMSA-led National Industry Strike which started last Monday 4 July 2011 in the Metal & Engineering sector of the South African economy and concluded that metalworkers have heeded the union's call for to engage employers for a Living Wage and the termination of modern slavery as practised by Labour Brokers.

Economic environment & Neo Liberal propositions

In the analyses of the NUMSA NEC, we concluded that collective bargaining in 2011 took place in the context of the following key factors;

Although it is argued that the South African economy is showing signs of recovery, the capitalist recession led to an unprecedented shedding of jobs. Over 280 000 jobs were lost in 2009-2010 just in the manufacturing sectors alone.

The creation of jobs is still largely hampered by a macroeconomic policy framework which stifles rather than encourages employment-led growth.

Any consideration of changes to the wages of workers should be placed within the context of the ‘triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality' facing South Africa - all our interventions should be about addressing all three challenges and not just focused on one e.g. unemployment.

SEIFSA has attempted to put forward an argument that the rate of wage increases has been higher than the rate of inflation over the past 5 years. NUMSA cannot subscribe to this notion because of the following realities;

It is well established that the CPI in its current form does not accurately reflect the full cost of living faced by workers. The costs attributed to transportation, healthcare and administered prices e.g. electricity are understated in terms of their weighting in the CPI calculation.

CPI is therefore a weak measure of how much workers spend on ensuring their families are able to survive, and should not be used as a proxy of any kind.

Members of SEIFSA themselves, in a recent survey, identify the strong rand as well as the high cost of raw materials as the main constraints or challenges facing their members. This is in direct contradiction to the widely held and inaccurate view that high wages are the main constraints faced by businesses in the metals and engineering sectors.

Employers in negotiations have also bombarded us with their view concerning the cost of labour output ratio comparisons between South Africa and China.

They claim that South African workers are paid 4 times higher and are 2 to 5 times less productive than their Chinese counterparts. This means that the total cost of labour per rand is 10 to 20 times higher than in China. In this regard NUMSA's NEC rejected this perspective for the following reasons;

Chinese workers benefit from a much higher social wage than South Africans do. Simply put, South African workers have to provide for services and benefits from their wages which Chinese workers are given at no cost. Also, productivity is directly proportional to a range of other factors such as skills and training as well as other socio-economic factors like health - you cannot look at productivity in isolation. It is simply not true that South African workers are just not productive as a result of not working harder than any of their other international counterparts.

With regards to the skills level of workers, SEIFA should take responsibility for ensuring that their staff is given the required set of skills to make them as competitive as their counterparts internationally. Skills training are important, but it is out of place when used as leverage to justify workers being underpaid.

NUMSA wish to reiterate that wage negotiations should not be viewed in isolation, but treated as one of the tools to be used to address the triple crisis that our country faces. South Africa is the most unequal country in the world in terms of income, and the most concrete way to address this inequality is to close the wage gap. Wage negotiations are the most powerful tool we have in acting decisively on this question. In this regard we believe that the following factors are crucial for understanding workers frustration

1. It would be useful for SEIFSA and other employers in our country to provide us with information about the average wages of top management in their member companies. This will assist in arriving at an accurate figure of the actual wage gap in the metals and engineering sector, which will further boost our demand for a living wage. What we have learned from business reports in the last week or so is that top directors have been receiving 23% salary increases in 2011 and bonus hikes of up to 56%.

2. The use of inflation as measure of cost of living is inaccurate. The CPI is just one of many factors that are included in an accurate reflection of the cost of living. NUMSA's NEC is of the view that going forward we need to move away from a model of negotiating wage increases that is centred around fluctuations in the CPI. The question of administered prices is critical.

3. Administered prices have increased by 10.9% from March 2010 to March 2011, and continue to steadily rise. As of the 1st July, Eskom has increased the electricity tariff by 30%; petrol is now over R10/litre and municipality rates and taxes have also increased by a large percentage. As stated before, workers have no choice but to pay for these services, which are essential and for which there are no substitutes. Any reasonable increase in wage rates therefore needs to be over 11% in order to counteract the effect these prices have on the livelihoods of workers and their families.

4. In the absence of an adequate social wage, workers rely on their salaries to provide for all their needs and those of their families. Shelter, education and medical expenses remain the responsibility of workers and they are entitled to a wage that allows them to adequately cater for these expenses. It is important to point out that these categories of expenses have also experienced high inflationary pressures in the past year.

5. NUMSA strongly oppose the assertion that there is a trade-off between wages and job retention. It is not true that capital will substantially increase employment if wages are set at a lower rate. The most effective driver of employment creation remains the upscaling of industrial capacity. The fact that this is not happening at the required pace is an indication of government's inadequate macroeconomic policies, and workers should therefore not be punished for this.

On violence during the strike:

Our industrial action for a Living Wage and improved services of employment has been characterized by a cycle of violence and intimidation from both the employers and members of the South African Police Services (SAPS). This onslaught or violence is not class neutral, but it's being unleashed or meted to silence popular dissent as advanced by workers for a Living Wage and improved services of employment at the point of production. Already lives have been lost, others are brutally wounded and receiving medical attention in hospitals across the country.

As the NEC we call for an end to this barbaric and inhumane police brutality targeting our members as their advance the struggle for a living wage and improved conditions.

As workers, we have a right to embark on a strike action without any intimidation or provocation by the SAPS and employers. If this onslaught continues, it will confirm our suspicions that the State organs, particularly the SAPS have been co-opted or are being bullied to mitigate over industrial dispute between workers and employers.

We condemn the refusal by SAPS to allow our members in Krugersdorp to open cases of intimidation, assault and shooting by police. This matter we will take it up with the Minister of Police Cde Nathi Mthethwa and National Police Commissioner Cde Bheki Cele respectively. The conduct by the police sends a wrong message that our police members are a law unto themselves. We want to emphasize that our country is not a police State, and we will fight tooth and nail to safeguard our country from drifting to such as State.

We salute our members and sympathizers for being disciplined and demonstrating high levels of maturity and soberness in the midst of mounting police brutality geared towards undermining our collective bargaining demands.

We reject the notion that the Numsa national strike in the metal and engineering strike is the most violent in the history of the industry. Strikes under Apartheid was the most bloodiest in the history of our country. For the record Numsa wish to report that 2 striking workers died in a car and truck accidents in Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Numsa NEC calls on NUMSA striking workers to continue with strike action in unity and with maximum discipline.

Terms for a negotiated settlement in the metal and engineering industry:

The NEC welcomed the efforts of the negotiating team who engaged in negotiations with the employers on Saturday 9th July 2011. At the time of releasing the press statement, the NUMSA NEC was underway to examine the report of the Numsa negotiating team arising out of the negotiations between Numsa and Seifsa held on Saturday 9th July 2011. Numsa's NEC was joined by the national leadership of Ceppwawu who is part of the metal and engineering strike which commenced on Monday 4th July 2011. Numsa supports the strike of Ceppwawu commencing on Monday 11th July 2011 in the industrial chemical, petroleum, pharmaceutical; fast moving goods, tissue and allied, fibre and particle boards and glass.

We shall fight by side by side with our sister union.

In welcoming the work of the negotiators the NUMSA NEC resolved as follows;

1. That our demand for a 13% wage increase is not unreasonable;

2. Numsa would continue to insist that we enter into a two year agreement instead of the employers proposal for a three year agreement failing which we would revert back to a demand for a one year agreement;

3. Labour Brokers must not be used in the metal and engineering industry because our experience of regulating them in the metal and engineering industry has not resolved the exploitation suffered by workers in the industry.

4. Numsa would be convening country wide report back meetings between Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July 2011 to present the NUMSA NEC framework for a potential industry settlement and obtain a mandate to pursue with employers. A Special NEC teleconference shall be convened on Wednesday 13th July 2011 to determine the way forward as we seek to resolve the industry strike.

Intensification of the strike action

The strike continues with a call on striking Numsa members to avoid provocation and to remain united and to exercise maximum discipline. The NUMSA NEC is receiving a proposed Strike Program Of Action which include a mass protest march in Kwazulu Natal on Tuesday 13th July 2011.

Recapping Numsa's demands:

The NUMSA NEC reaffirmed that our negotiating position in the current talks with employers are the following;

1. An increase of 13% (coming from a demand of 20% & whereas employers are offering 7 % with conditions)

2. A 2 wage agreement (whereas employers want a 3 year agreement)

3. Banning Labour brokers (whereas employers want regulation)

4. One day testing for all diseases

5. Five days (5) Days family responsibility per occurrence

6. 20% night shift allowance.

We shall not stray away from Cosatu's call for a Living Wage and shall therefore intensify our battle till our demands are met.

Statement issued by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary, July 10 2011