Hints of split in ranks of strikers
Johannesburg - Signs of cracks in the more than two-week strike in the motor manufacturing industry emerged yesterday when the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) suspended a planned march by 5 000 motor workers that had been scheduled to take place today.
The suspension follows unconfirmed reports that workers at four of the seven motor manufacturing plants had accepted the final wage offer made by the Automobile Manufacturers Employers Organisation (Ameo) on August 23.
Attempts to obtain comment from Numsa were unsuccessful.
The industry has been losing production of 3 000 vehicles a day valued at about R600 million, while hourly paid workers have lost about R50m a day in wages and benefits.
Thapelo Molapo, Ameo’s chairman and chief negotiator, said Numsa’s national executive committee was deliberating yesterday on feedback from plants, after which it hoped it would be able to give Ameo feedback.
Meanwhile, it appears highly likely a strike will start on Monday in the retail motor industry, affecting petrol service stations, vehicle dealerships, body repair shops and component manufacturers.
Jakkie Olivier, the chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation and the industry’s chief negotiator, said mediation with Numsa over a new agreement would continue this afternoon and tomorrow but all the issues were still on the table and the parties were “very far apart for so late in the negotiations”.
In another development, the construction industry strike entered its 10th day yesterday despite a minority union, the Building, Construction and Allied Workers Union (Bcawu), reaching a three-year agreement with the SA Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) on Tuesday.
Annemie Cowley, a Safcec spokeswoman, said it had asked the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to reconsider Safcec’s offer but had not yet received a response.
In terms of the agreement reached with Bcawu, workers will receive wage increases of between 8 percent and 10 percent, depending on their grade.
NUM’s last formal wage demand was for a 40 percent wage increase.
Junior gold mining companies Pan African Resources and Village Main Reef yesterday reached two-year wage settlements with labour unions amid the NUM-led strike that has shut operations of major gold producers since Tuesday night.
Pan African’s Evander mine and Village’s Tau Lekoa mine reached a settlement with NUM and Uasa yesterday.
The wage deal comprised an 8 percent basic wage increase for category four and five staff, including rock drill operators.
In addition, the basic wages of employees in categories 6 to 8, including miners, artisans and officials, will increase by 7.5 percent.
The Chamber of Mines offered workers a 6.5 percent increase in its final offer on behalf of major gold producers last week but Village and Pan African continued talks with the unions to avert a strike.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka confirmed members had accepted the offers but gave no indication whether it was likely to agree to similar offers from other gold producers.
“The workers have accepted the offer from Village and Pan African. It does not mean our members will accept the same figures from other mining houses because they [mines] differ in terms of size,” he said.
Pan African said it expected the wage increase, which would be backdated to July 1, to add about 8 percent a year for the next two years to Evander’s wage bill.
It said wage talks at its Barberton operation, which is not part of the chamber, were continuing.
“Our negotiations were done through the auspices and protocol of the chamber and it’s not unusual for chamber members to sheer off into separate pacts,” said Ron Holding, the interim chief executive at Pan African.
Village echoed Pan African, saying in its statement that the agreement would protect the Tau Lekoa mine.
However, this agreement is contrary to statements by Graham Briggs, the chief executive of Harmony, who said the chamber would not settle with individual unions or on behalf of individual companies.
Yesterday, Elize Strydom, the chief negotiator at the chamber, said the agreements were encouraging.
“That the producers and the unions can find one another in the interests of preserving these operations indicates our mutual desire to achieve an affordable and sustainable settlement,” she said.
As the strike entered its second day yesterday, seven of the 23 mines represented by the chamber operated normally, the chamber said.
Every day an estimated R349m is lost in revenue and R100m in wages and salaries.
Asked whether a settlement was on the cards, Charmane Russell, the spokesman for the chamber, said “the employers remain in ongoing discussions with the union”.
Peter Bailey, the chairman of the national health and safety unit at NUM, defended the demands of the union yesterday.
He said increases of R2 300 for surface and opencast miners and R3 000 for underground miners were based on what determined a living wage.
But he added the demands were not cast in stone and were open to negotiation.
Bailey said: “The executives in the gold mines earn more than what President Jacob Zuma earns. The workers don’t want motorboats, a second home or a 4x4. They want to support their families in a decent manner; they want quality education for their children.”
He said the 6 percent and 6.5 percent offers from the Chamber of Mines were narrowly above the annual increase in the consumer price index. A salary increase linked to inflation for a worker who earned less than R5 000 a month was peanuts, while for an executive, “it is astronomical”, Bailey said.
Bailey said wage increases in percentages were very misleading because their rand value could be anything. That was why NUM had put forward tangible figures.
He said it did not matter that other unions had not joined the strike even though they had turned down the offer.
“The NUM represents over 80 percent of workers in the gold sector. It represents the poorest, the most marginalised and the most exploited.” - Business Report