Karl Cloete Deputy general Secretary of Numsa. Picture: Timothy Bernard.

Pretoria - White workers are paid four times more than their African counterparts, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said on Monday.

“It will take 520 years for Africans to earn the same salary as the whites,” said Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete.

“Unemployment is increasing, poverty is deepening and inequalities widening,” he told the union's national bargaining conference in Pretoria.

Cloete said that for every unemployed white worker, there were 80 unemployed African workers.

According to the union, unemployment among Africans grew from 40 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2012.

Cloete told delegates they should debate how to defend and grow manufacturing capabilities.

“You must pursue the struggle for a living wage. You must pursue proper, negotiated and beneficial agreements to workers.”

Cloete said Numsa had a huge task of recruiting the high number of workers who did not belong to any union.

“There are 71 percent of workers who are not union members. Fifty-four percent of workers do not get an increase at their work.”

He said there could not be a good story to tell when there was no national minimum wage.

He said the African National Congress-led government was proud to dish out grants, but the unemployed wanted proper decent jobs instead of grants.

Opening the conference, union president Andrew Chirwa said the working class and the poor had no good story to tell about how their lives had been changed for the better.

“There is no good story to tell. It is a fairy tale. The working class and poor people have a bad story to tell,” he said.

Nothing had been achieved to change the lives of the poor, said Chirwa.

“We cannot lie for ever.... In 1994 we said SA will be a better place to live, unemployment will be halved in 10 years. Unemployment was supposed to be 12 percent by now.

“What have we achieved in this regard? We are not moving forward. Instead we are worse than 10 years ago.”

He said all the ANC had achieved was replacing white capital with black capital.

The struggle for freedom had got rid of apartheid, but capitalism remained.

“A white man was replaced by a black man.”

He said the working class was under siege.

“Working class, employed and unemployed, is under siege.... For the first time a litre of petrol is about R15.”

Chirwa told the conference that Numsa had responded to the Congress of SA Trade Union (Cosatu) about why it should not be expelled or suspended.

“We have complied with the Cosatu's demand. We made a submission within the seven-day deadline,” he said.

“Numsa has been given seven days to respond why we should not be suspended or dismissed, and we complied last week Friday. The letter from Cosatu was very clear that the Central Executive Committee has resolved to dismiss us to complete their master plan.”

Cosatu and Numsa have been at loggerheads following the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Numsa wants Vavi's suspension to be lifted and has led eight other unions in calling for a special Cosatu national conference.

“A group within Cosatu is running away from its constituency. They refuse a special national conference. I wonder where do they get a mandate?”

Chirwa said Numsa was a critical component of Cosatu and a founding member, and that Cosatu's central committee had turned into a sex tribunal.

“They spend a year discussing sex scandals.... They are preoccupied with sex scandals to the extent that they violated the Cosatu constitution.

“The master plan is to paralyse Cosatu and get rid of Vavi and expel Numsa.”

Numsa resolved at its special national congress in December that it would not support the ANC or fund its election campaign.

It has called on Cosatu to pull out of the tripartite alliance with the ANC and the SA Communist Party.

Delegates wearing red union T-shirts and black and red tracksuits clapped their hands and others whistled as they sang.

“It is nice to trust in Numsa,” they sang in isiZulu.

There was a giant poster of former president Nelson Mandela on the right side of the podium and one showing former Numsa leaders on the left.