Johannesburg - The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) had no option but to intensify its strike, its general secretary, Irvin Jim, said yesterday.
He was briefing journalists on the union’s latest proposal to employers.
Numsa convened a national executive committee meeting last week, in which members agreed to an increase of 10 percent for the first, second and third years.
The employers are pushing for a three-year agreement.
But Jim said the union would be prepared to end the strike with a one-year agreement and a 10 percent wage increase – a significant change from its original demand of a 15 percent increase.
“Numsa wants to inform the public that the continuation of this strike is now being driven by employers… It is not us who are delaying this,” he said.
“Workers are not witch-doctors and cannot envision what the economy will look like in the next three years,” he said of the three-year agreement employers were seeking.
The last proposal placed on the table by employers offered a 10 percent increase in the first year and a 9.5 percent increase in the second year – which Numsa members rejected last week.
The union said employers were also demanding that section 37 of the last bargaining agreement be amended, which would scrap national collective bargaining in favour of agreements at plant level.
“In this regard we warn that employers are only fuelling the continuation of the strike. Employers must know that their unilateral approach is rejected with the contempt it deserves,” Jim said.
Another sticking point was resistance from the bosses to banning of labour broking in the engineering sector, which Numsa said was making its members “angry and irritated”.
The union secured the banning of labour brokers in the automotive sector last year and is confident this is possible in the metals sector as well, saying it was unprofitable because these workers received the same benefits and conditions as permanent staff.
The employers have also rejected the union’s demand for a housing subsidy or allowance that Jim said would enable workers to move from squatter camps to formal housing.
Last week national police commissioner Riah Phiyega called for a meeting with Numsa over the violent incidents which have marred the strike as it enters its third week.
Deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said they had replied and asked for the purpose and agenda of the meeting.
But the leadership also alleges that the union may be getting infiltrated by a “third force” of agents provocateurs who aim to discredit the union through acts of criminality.
“A group of gangs are marauding within our own structures trying to cause confusion to unseat elected leadership in regions,” Jim said.
“We’ve called on members to be vigilant, to take care of their strike because agents provocateurs could undermine our strike, which is not a political strike – it is aimed at improving wages and benefits.”
And with threats to embark on an unprotected strike at power utility Eskom, the leadership of Numsa met new Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown last week to discuss its concerns.
“We used that meeting both to share with the new minister what has been our painful experience at Eskom when it comes to workers who in their majority keep the lights of the country on but when it comes to increases, management is completely untransformed when they decide what workers deserve and give increases far below inflation,” he said.
The power utility has offered a 5.6 percent increase.
This was in spite of the “huge profits” it reported recently, namely a profit of R7.1 billion over the past five years, Jim said.
“This stance is maintained to punish workers. But what gives Eskom challenges is not workers, but they are not focused (on) belt-tightening. Bosses spend money willy-nilly.” - Cape Times