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Employers write to Phiyega over strike

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Independent Newspapers

Picture: Antoine de Ras

Johannesburg - Concerns of violence in the metals and engineering strike prompted employers to write to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega twice, Seifsa said on Thursday.

In his most recent letter to Phiyega, dated Tuesday, Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa) chief executive Kaizer Nyatsumba called on police to prepare for a potentially violent strike.

About 220 000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the majority union in the metals and engineering industries, began an indefinite strike on Tuesday.

Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese expressed contempt for Seifsa's attempt to involve police in the strike.

"Seifsa should not open unhealed wounds. Workers have not forgotten their comrades were slaughtered in Marikana by the police," he said in a statement on Thursday.

On August 16, 2012, 34 people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead at Lonmin's platinum mining operations in Marikana, North West, in a clash with police. Police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them.

Nyatsumba wrote to Phiyega: "We would deeply regret the loss of life in the course of this strike, and we hope most sincerely the SAPS will work hard to prevent such a possibility."

The war-like rhetoric of some union leaders led to fears that non-striking workers would be coerced into joining the strike.

Nyatsumba said in a statement that Seifsa's members had reported striking workers behaving unlawfully and, in some cases, violently.

Property had been damaged at companies in Wadeville and Isando on Gauteng's East Rand since the strike began, he said.

Ngobese said the union did not take such accusations lightly.

"They are just part of a cheap ploy by the employers to undermine the integrity of our struggle for a living wage and improved conditions of employment."

Numsa members had been disciplined since the strike began, in line with the union's disciplinary code of conduct, he said.

Nyatsumba said unions had refused to sign a peace accord and this matter was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration.

"Leaders of organised labour have to step forward and accept responsibility for the conduct of their members during a strike," he said.

Trade union Solidarity, which is not on strike, said in a statement that one of its members was attacked and seriously injured by strikers at car parts manufacturer Autocast, in Port Elizabeth, on Thursday.

"The member was beaten with knobkerries and the aggressors also stomped on his head," Marius Croucamp, head of the metal and engineering sector at the union, said in a statement.

Police could not immediately confirm this.

Ngobese said Numsa was "incensed" by Solidarity's statement, in which the union called for police to intervene.

"We call on Solidarity to join the strike so that we fight together for decent wages for workers in the industry."

Employers in the metals and engineering industry have tabled a three-year wage offer of between seven and eight percent for different levels of workers in the first year, and CPI-linked increases for 2015 and 2016.

Numsa wanted a one-year bargaining agreement, including a 15 percent wage increase, a R1 000 housing allowance, and the scrapping of labour brokers.

Last Thursday Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said the union had reduced its 15 percent increase demand to 12 percent.

On Thursday, however, Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said the union was sticking to 15 percent.

"As long as employers are not conceding these reasonable demands, the strike continues indefinitely."

Seifsa spokeswoman Ollie Madlala said further talks with Numsa would take place later on Thursday.

 

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