Cape Town - The construction sector strike could have a huge impact on the economies of the Western Cape and the country if it continues.
The civil engineering industry was on Tuesday wracked with incidents of protest, violence and intimidation as the strike entered its second week.
The strike began early last week after wage talks failed between the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) - which represents the employers in the civil engineering contracting industry - and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Building Construction and Allied Workers Union (Bcawu).
But while the labour dispute does not involve the building industry, many construction sites have been affected in their entirety by the civil engineering workers’ protest action.
“We can’t get on site because they’re intimidating our guys. Our guys have to leave site - there are guys going crazy there,” reported one contractor, who asked not to be named.
Wage negotiations began in July and a certificate of non-resolution was issued by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration following an unsuccessful conciliation process between the parties.
“NUM and Bcawu are demanding a 40-percent pay increase on the total cost of employment for entry rate Task Grade 1, while employers are offering 7.5 percent,” Safcec said, arguing that the union demands were unreasonable and unaffordable.
“It is regrettable that we’ve reached this position given the current state of labour uncertainty and the impact it will have on the industry and the economy”, said Safcec president Norman Milne.
On Tuesday, however, Safcec and Bcawu announced they had struck a deal that would remain in place until August 31, 2016.
“The accepted offer allows for a 10 percent wage increase for categories Task Grade 1 to 4 and 8 percent wage increase for categories Task Grade 5 to 9. In addition, severance benefits for the industry were also improved,” Safcec reported.
John Slingsby from Cape Town firm Slingsby & Gaidien Construction said: “While it is difficult to quantify the cost of lost revenue at this point, we have certainly felt the impact of the strike this week and delays on sites are already noticeable. Our workers and subcontractors have been intimidated and threatened by the NUM strikes. As such we have a limited workforce on our sites and work off sites will also no doubt result in delays as well which we are not yet aware of.”
Slingsby said a vehicle from one of the firm’s subcontractors was stoned and set alight yesterday morning while transporting his workmen to site.
Rob Johnson, executive director of the Master Builders Association of the Western Cape, said he could not say how many construction firms in the province were affected by the strike.
He said the strike had caused several sites of members belonging to the association to close and there were also reports of workers being attacked on their way to work and vehicles damaged.
Last week, Johnson said a few hundred members of NUM marched to the offices of the Building Industry Bargaining Council where they handed over a memorandum of their grievances against employers in the construction industry.
“They also vowed not to return to work until their demands were met. This is another key sector of the economy to become embroiled in a wave of industrial action sweeping the country with the motor manufacturing sector already on strike and the gold and textile sectors set to join.”
He said the association recently concluded wage negotiations for a three-year period, with the labour parties including NUM to the Building Industry Bargaining Council.
“A wage increase for the building industry in the Western Cape of 7.5 percent was agreed by majority decision of council. After agreement, NUM declared a dispute, stating that they did not agree with the wage increase and the period of the agreement. However, at the time of voting as to whether to accept or reject the increase, they did not say yay or nay, nor did they choose to abstain and instead remained silent. They then issued a dispute against the employers in the building industry.”
Johnson added that there are 32 000 workers in the building industry in the Western Cape and NUM was trying to project a picture as being those of the majority building industry workers, which was not the case.
“During Wednesday’s strike, protesters damaged property belonging to the building industry employers - for example, smashing the windscreen of a vehicle while the driver was still inside. This is tantamount to attempted murder.
“It is our opinion that NUM are abusing the current strike action against the civil industry due to losing ground against other unions. Their fight has nothing to do with the building industry and everything to do with trying to gain relevance amongst current and potential members.