Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: Siphelele Dludla, ANA.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: Siphelele Dludla, ANA.

Numsa wins bid for fuel sector to strike

By Dieketseng Maleke Time of article published Apr 14, 2021

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THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) emerged victorious after the Essential Services Committee (ESC) of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration deemed the fuel sector a non-essential service. This means that the workers in the sector can strike.

Last year, the petroleum industry wanted to be declared an essential service. It made representations to the ESC. Trade unions at the time said the move to declare the workers as essential services prohibited employees from striking.

The fuel sector includes the production, transportation, and distribution of fuel.

Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim said the union welcomed the findings by the ESC. He added that the ESC investigated and found in Numsa's favour.

Jim said the union made its submissions before the committee opposing the application as striking was a fundamental right that is protected by the Constitution.

“Also, we were not convinced that the fuel sector met the criteria to be declared ‘essential’. The condition for a sector to be declared ‘essential’ is, “a service the interruption of which endangers the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population”, he added.

Meanwhile, Jim said, the committee also received submissions from the SA Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) and the Fuel Retailers Association (FRA).

“They claimed that a stoppage caused by a strike at any stage of the supply chain of the fuel process would cause disruptions along the entire value chain, thus increasing the risk that there will be shortages of supply of fuel to essential services, such as police and emergency services,” he said.

Jim said the ESC noted that the FRA and Sapia couldn't provide proof to support their claim. The committee also found that the right to strike and should not be tampered with lightly.

He said the panel was not satisfied that a case was made for the designation; even in its evidence, Sapia conceded that a strike that lasted almost three weeks did not impact essential services as there were contingency plans in place to ensure that essential services were not interrupted.

Jim added that strike action is an important element of collective bargaining, and it is recognised as the primary mechanism through which workers exercise collective power.

“There have been repeated attempts to water down the right to strike, and we have consistently opposed all of them. In 2018, the ESC had to make a similar determination on the bus passenger sector when the National Black Consumer Council lodged an application to the ESC for workers in the sector to be declared essential to prevent strike action. We fought against this too, and we won,” said Jim.


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