Trouble is brewing at Telkom. The trade unions operating at the multibillion-rand fixed mobile operator are going to approach the courts to try and reverse the company’s move to retrench 2 635 workers.
At a time when there are massive levels of uncertainty and high unemployment in the job market, no one can blame them.
The Communication Workers Union, in a press release, said it would “vehemently oppose by all means at our disposal any restructuring trajectory that negatively affects our members by consigning them to the ranks of the already bloated reserve army of the unemployed”.
Solidarity, another union with members at Telkom, said it was exploring its legal options and would approach the labour court to halt the process. It said it was not given enough time to review the process. It also said Telkom could not use an employee’s race as a criterion for retrenchment.
It is always a sad day when people lose their jobs. For a company like Telkom, where the state once held a majority shareholding, one would have thought that preserving jobs and following the developmental agenda of the ANC-led government would be a priority instead of following the route of many corporates around the country that have reduced headcounts in order to widen profit margins and squeeze every last cent out of their consumer bases.
According to the unions, Telkom has already cut thousands of jobs in earlier rounds of restructuring.
The question is, how many more jobs must be lost in the name of appeasing shareholders and gaining bonuses out of cost savings that come from slashing the workforce? One would think that with the unlimited growth potential from the rest of Africa staring Telkom in the face, the name of the game would be investment and innovation, not depression.
It is clear the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is following the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) script from the recent five-month wage strike in the platinum sector, with the hope of similar results.
Numsa’s 200 000 members at metal fabrication companies want a 15 percent wage increase and a R1 000 housing allowance, and are out on a strike that is costing the economy an estimated R200 million a day.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa has offered some employees a 10 percent increase.
Three days into the Numsa strike, property was damaged, and there were reports of violence and intimidation against those who wanted to exercise their right to work.
In Gauteng, 26 people were arrested in connection with the crimes last week and a total of 53 have been arrested around the country.
One wonders if Numsa has noted that there were no winners in the platinum wage strike and that one of the casualties has been the contraction in the economy.
Although the lowest paid underground mineworker will now receive wage increases of up to 20 percent, and none will earn less than R8 000 a month, restructuring of shafts hangs over the head of the mineworkers.
Spectators on the sidelines are of the view that Numsa and the employers are more on common ground compared with the gulf that loomed between Amcu and the platinum employers and a strike should have been a last resort.
Undoubtedly, Numsa has been on a mission to prove a point and boost its profile after falling out with Cosatu, to which it is affiliated.
Time will tell if the efforts pay off.
Yesterday, Numsa held a national executive committee meeting where it was expected to announce Department of Labour mediation. Today and tomorrow, the leadership will receive a mandate from members before announcing whether it will accept the latest wage offer.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ayanda Mdluli and Dineo Faku.