DISPUTES AND INDUSTRIAL ACTION

Home Affairs work week changes talks collapse

The Public Servants Association (PSA), representing 75% of Home Affairs employees, is gearing up for a strike at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) after deadlock in the dispute to change the work week from 5 to 6 days without any additional compensation.  Following unsuccessful conciliation talks at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) on Tuesday, the 230,000 strong PSA, which is affiliated to the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa), served notice on the DPA for a strike from 19 June.  Nehawu is still consulting about the proposed strike action. Mkuseli Apleni‚ the Home Affairs director-general‚ indicated that the unions want payment for officials who work on Saturdays‚ instead of days off.

Mangaung Metro strike resolution talks remain deadlocked

Talks between the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the Mangaung Metro, which includes Bloemfontein, remain deadlocked, resulting in essential services remaining badly affected.  Municipal workers have been on strike since 17 May, accusing the Metro of not implementing local labour forum agreements, which include among other issues salary parity with other metros in the country.  Samwu has tabled two proposals: one is a R3,000 adjustment to salaries of monthly employees and the other is a once off payment of R40,000.

Municipal workers don’t want to move to new head office

Municipal workers in the Speaker’s office in Tshwane are opposed to the idea of moving to Tshwane House, which is the city’s new head office, because the building won’t afford them enough privacy.  Unlike their old closed offices partitioned by brick walls, their new offices are partitioned with glass.  Unhappy employees affiliated to the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) on Tuesday engaged in an hour lunch break picket outside their offices.  Open space offices, they complained, carried the potential to infringe on their privacy.  They also griped about the prohibition on eating or drinking inside the new offices and claimed that the impressive Tshwane House did not comply with the occupation health safety standards.  Their shop steward said workers were disgruntled because they were not consulted before a decision to move them was made.  They have vowed not to vacate their old offices until the city has the addressed their complaints.

Outsourced workers on strike at Port Elizabeth export company

Hundreds of workers have been on strike since 24 May at Dynamic Commodities, an export fruit and ice cream manufacturing company operating from the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth.  The workers, who are contracted by labour broker firm Outsource, are demanding an increase in their wages and an improvement in working conditions.  Cronje Van Zyl of Outsource said the union did not have organisational rights as it was registered in the security sector and not certified for food production. 

Former Servest employees charged with public violence

A group of 29 former employees of the company Servest, in the Epping Industrial area in Cape Town, appeared in the Parow Regional Court on Monday, all charged with public violence.  The case was remanded to 21 July, when the trial is expected to commence.  Their case is a sequel to unrest during a wage dispute at Servest’s premises nearly two years ago, when the group is alleged to have ignored a Labour Court interdict, restraining them from causing any further damage to the premises.  In the course of the unrest, the group was “locked out” and it is alleged that they first torched and then broke down the main gate to the premises.  The police were called and had to use tear gas to disperse the protestors.  It is alleged that the group defied the Labour Court Interdict, and returned to the premises to protest.

Uber drivers protest

Uber drivers operating around East Gate mall in Johannesburg staged a protest over alleged ongoing intimidation from meter taxi drivers.  About 250 Uber operators were expected to deliver a memorandum to management at the shopping centre.  Uber drivers have previously accused metered taxi drivers of damaging their cars and assaulting them while they operate in the area.  Gauteng meter taxi drivers recently distanced themselves from a circulating message that threatened violence against Uber drivers.  

WAGE NEGOTIATIONS AND REMUNERATION

Centralised bargaining for coal miners in 2017

Coal producers and trade unions have agreed that the 2017 coal sector wage negotiations will continue to take place centrally under the auspices of the Chamber of Mines (CoM).  Anglo Coal, Delmas Coal, Exxaro Coal Mpumalanga, Kangra Coal, Koornfontein Mines and Glencore met with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), UASA and Solidarity on 2 June 2017 to discuss the future structure and form of wage negotiations in the coal sector, amid threats of a strike owing to disagreements.  In addition to agreeing that the 2017 wage negotiations would take place centrally, the parties agreed to conclude a Framework Agreement that would govern the wage negotiations process.  They further agreed to a parallel process to concurrently conclude company-level recognition agreements.  The unions are expected to submit wage demands shortly.  The producers announced in February that they had decided to decentralise wage negotiations, thus enabling each mine to conclude its own wage increases, but this was rejected by the unions, causing a sector deadlock that threatened to result in a strike.

MEIBC wage talks

Wage talks in the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) for the metal and engineering sector commenced on Wednesday with the current wage agreement lapsing at the end of June. The largest union in the talks, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), has announced that it would be pursuing three priorities: A 15% wage increase across the board based on actual rates, extension of the current agreement for a further two years to address outstanding issues, and the extension of the agreement to non-parties which would include Neasa (National Employers Association of SA) and Pcasa (Plastics Convertors Association of SA) who fall under the MEIBC but who refused to sign the current agreement.

During the two-day initial talks, employers apparently proposed that wage increases be based on minimum rates rather than actual rates and that a minimum 45-hour week be introduced.  Currently, metal and engineering employees work 40 hours, with anything over that constituting overtime.  Employers apparently also wanted to reduce leave time for new employees by not allowing them the four weeks’ leave entitled to those who had worked four or more years.

In addition to a wage demand of 10%, Solidarity submitted a new main wage agreement as part of its wage demands. They motivated the submission as being necessary since the Labour Court had declared the previous two main agreements invalid.  For this reason, the proposed main agreement, which covers more than 450 pages, was updated and largely rewritten from the previous valid agreement.

MEIBC money woes

Solidarity is planning to ask the Labour Court to place the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) under administration, in a bid to save it from bankruptcy.  The trade union said this was due to the ongoing financial crisis affecting the bargaining council over the past few of years, as well as the inability of parties in the council to come to an agreement on a number of issues.  About 340,000 employees and 10,000 companies fall under the MEIBC.

Nehawu and Parliament

The National Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) is putting pressure on Parliament to sack its accounting officer, Gengezi Mgidlana.  The union blames him for the financial crisis at the institution, including the delay in effecting salary increases for this financial year.  Nehawu, which represents most of Parliament’s staff, has not ruled out strike action if management fails to table a reasonable wage offer in the next few months.  Nehawu wants a 10.3% increase backdated to April, when workers were due to receive their annual increases.  With Parliament facing financial problems, wage negotiations have not yet begun.  Nehawu said Mgidlana, who was the focus of an investigation by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, should be placed on suspension, pending the conclusion of the investigation.  The union also said it would push for his dismissal.

Samwu members threatens wage strike in Ekurhuleni

Members of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) in Ekurhuleni threatened to unleash a bout of industrial action if the municipality failed to accede its demand for higher wages by Thursday. Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe said the municipality “welcomes any constructive engagement with Samwu on the salaries matter.”

Police emergency 10111 operators’ salary dispute

The new interim-acting national police commissioner Lesetja Mothiba has announced that the SA Police Service (SAPS) has decided to send police officers to manage the emergency 10111 units where staff are on strike.  Call centre workers threatened a national shutdown on Tuesday after the South African Policing Union (Sapu) said they had been underpaid for too long.  Mothiba made his first appearance in Parliament on Wednesday as police head, and said negotiations around sending police officers were at an advanced stage.  Sapu general secretary Oscar Skommere indicated on Tuesday that they were giving police 14 days to respond to their demands presented at a march in Pretoria.  The call centre agents act as the first port of call during an emergency situation for people seeking help or assistance from the police.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

Pension fund cancellations heads to ConCourt

Rosemary Hunter, the former deputy pension funds registrar,  will be approaching the Constitutional Court after three earlier court rulings found against her in a matter involving her former employer, the Financial Services Board (FSB), and the cancellation of thousands of pension funds.  Last week, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed with costs her leave to appeal against two high court rulings.  She indicated that she would now approach the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal.  The pension funds cancellations project led to the FSB cancelling 6,757 pension funds between 2007 and 2013 on the grounds that they had ceased to exist because they no longer had properly constituted boards.  In court papers, Hunter argued that the cancellations project was “unlawful” and may have caused fund members to suffer loss.  Hunter will be seeking a court-supervised probe into the cancellations.

Board of Trustees of Community Medical Scheme suspended

Community Medical Scheme has been placed under provisional curatorship by the High Court in Pretoria after the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) discovered alleged governance failings by its board.  The council approached the high court urgently and the Friday before last it appointed a provisional curator, pending the outcome of a hearing on 4 August.  The apparent failures in fiduciary oversight include allowing a R1.1m bonus to be paid to the scheme’s principal officer, which was outside the scope of her employment contract, and allowing illegal advance payments to the scheme’s administrator Allcare to go ahead.  Community Medical Scheme had 13,109 beneficiaries at the end of 2016.  The CMS’s head of legal services said members should rest assured that it was “business as usual” for the scheme, which had sufficient funds to cover their medical bills.  

EMPLOYEE-RELATED ISSUES

Klipwal gold mine reopens using former zama zamas as workforce

Birrell Mining International has reopened the recently acquired Bosveld Mining’s Klipwal gold mine in KwaZulu-Natal.  Under the chairmanship of Graham Briggs, the former CEO of Harmony Gold, Birrell completed the purchase of Bosveld Mines from Stonewall Mining earlier this year, after having been responsible for the care-and-maintenance programme since early 2016.  Production began last month.  Owing to the high levels of illegal activity at Klipwal, it was decided to make use of the local former illegal miners as the main workforce, within strict safety regulations and managerial control and adherence to legislative requirements around contractor employment.  The former illegal zama zamas, which have formed cooperatives, are contracted as legal personnel to complete hand-lashing and tramming within portions of the mine that are rendered safe by the company.  The cooperatives are remunerated on each ton lashed and trammed to a collection point.

Platinum firms uphold output in order to retain jobs

According to an article in Business Day, the platinum price is likely to remain subdued until there is a reduction of primary supply from SA, but given the reluctance of the government and unions to agree to cutting jobs entailed in stopping unprofitable shafts, production has been kept relatively high.  A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report said on Monday that the concentration of ownership in the sector had diminished in time as Sibanye Gold bought the large Rustenburg mining complex from Anglo American Platinum as well as the whole of Aquarius.  “Usually, a reduction of industry concentration is positive, because competition increases.  Yet, in the case of platinum, it has, in our view, prevented a rebalancing of the global market for various reasons,” the report said, singling out the Sibanye transaction.  “This meant that especially the marginal Rustenburg operations, whose performance Anglo Platinum had been discontent with for years, have been sustained for now.”  The inability of mining companies to shut unprofitable production because of fierce opposition from the government and unions has meant “miners have sustained production to spread fixed labour costs over as large an output base as possible”.

 Lily Mine secures funding

The search for the remains of three Lily Gold Mine workers, who were trapped underground in February last year when a lamp-room container they were working in fell into a massive sinkhole, will resume in September.  The Mpumalanga mine’s business rescue practitioner, Rob Devereux, indicated on Thursday that the company had finally secured funding of 20-million Canadian dollars from Galane Gold, a Canadian mining company.  But, Lily Mine, which is owned by Vantage Goldfields, has not yet received the funding as there are still processes to be gone through and contracts to be finalised.  Devereux went on to indicate that Lily Mine would use the money it would get from Galane to pay its remaining workers their outstanding wages and to resume operations after the conclusion of the rescue operations.  A number of the employees have taken voluntary severance packages and left the company.  The company will give the current workers preference over other people when it resumes mining operations.

Sugar tax and its effect on jobs

Labour federation Cosatu, Business Unity SA (Busa) and the SA Sugar Association (Sasa) have agreed that the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages should be delayed as it would have a negative effect on employment in the industry.  The three organisations argued in Parliament on Wednesday that the team set up by Nedlac should be allowed to conclude its work and a socio-economic impact assessment study should also be undertaken.  Busa said that time was needed for mitigation measures to be developed to counteract any negative effects of the proposed levy.  The Treasury has proposed the tax as a way to deal with obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.  Cosatu highlighted the threat of job losses posed by the proposed tax and called for its implementation to be delayed so that a comprehensive transition and jobs plan could be developed.  Cosatu’s parliamentary liaison officer, Matthew Parks, pointed out that the Treasury had estimated that the introduction of the tax would cause 5,000 job losses.


Highveld Steel’s retrenched employees

Highveld Steel has paid about R50m to retrenched employees to date and continues to pay them from rentals from the businesses that now occupy the site outside eMalahleni.  The company was put into business rescue in April 2015 after a prolonged downturn in the steel industry.  This resulted in the retrenchment of almost 3,500 people, including about 1,800 of its own staff as well as contractors, in February 2016.  Business rescue practitioner Piers Marsden indicated on Tuesday at the official restart of the Highveld Structural Mill that the total amount owed to employees, who are being paid out first, was originally R300m.  An agreement was reached with ArcelorMittal SA (AMSA) in 2016 to reopen part of the plant. Marsden expects the business rescue process will take about another two years to resolve.  About 500 people are working in various businesses on the site, including a black-owned logistics company that uses Highveld’s extensive rail infrastructure to ship coal for small producers in the area.

Stuttafords retrenchments

Although disappointed that Stuttafords was in a winding down process, chief executive Robert Amoils said he was glad the retailer could at least pay staff their full retrenchment packages.  Following a business rescue process that lasted seven months, creditors voted last week to a wind down of the retailer, which was founded in 1858.  “Over the course of the next few months, should a third party not come forward to buy one or more of the stores, it will mean that by July or August our entire store base would have closed,” said Amoils.  So far four department stores have been closed and five still operate.  For Stuttafords’ 950 staff members, in a case of liquidation their years of long service would have ignored and their retrenchment packages would have been capped, but with the wind down, the full retrenchment packages will be payable without any limitation.

UNION POLITICS

NUM central committee introspection

The General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), David Sipunzi, presented a secretariat report to the union’s central committee meeting last week indicating that the organisation has lost more than 132,000 members in the past five years, with the once formidable union now boasting only about 176,000 members in the mining, construction and energy sectors, well short of the plan to grow the union to 220,000 members by the end of 2017.  The report suggested infighting and the slump in the mining industry, among other factors, were to blame.  It also states the rival ‘yellow union’ (i.e. Amcu) has managed to grow so fast because of the NUM’s failures and poor service.  The report warns that the NUM “is not the only trade union in the field and tolerating substandard service delivery is at our own peril.”  Moreover, the NUM has struggled to rebuild its unity since its highly contested congress in 2015, during which then general secretary Frans Baleni was replaced by Sipunzi.  The rifts that existed then have apparently failed to close.  Sources say the division is getting worse, fueled in the main by great mistrust between leaders who supported different factions at the 2015 congress.

Satawu allegations

A video report reporting on allegations by whistleblowers, allege that the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), which is the third biggest affiliate of labour federation Cosatu, is being hijacked.  Whistleblowers claim it’s led by foreign nationals willing to use force, including murder, to silence members who dare to ask about missing funds.  They also question the status of yet another Satawu leader, claiming he’s from Zimbabwe.  General Secretary of the union, Zenzo Mahlangu, was found to have obtained his South African citizenship fraudulently in April.  He was deported last month to his home country Zimbabwe.

Samwu members want union contribution deductions halted

As the infighting crisis within the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) deepens, some of its members have requested the City of Johannesburg to withhold their membership subscriptions from the union.  Samwu has been dogged by infighting for almost a decade as different leaders battle it out for control of the union’s coffers, which run into millions, with some facing arrest over fraud and corruption.  The biggest union in the municipal sector is also being investigated by the Hawks.  Unhappy members said in a letter to the city council that their monies were being used to fund factional battles in the union.  The council has been negotiating labour matters with two factions of the union, pending a ruling on a Labour Appeal Court (LAC) application.  “Until the LAC decides on the matter, it is incumbent on us to treat both factions as equals,” said Christo Marais, acting group executive director of group corporate services for the city.  The issue of withholding membership subscription funds will be tabled before the next mandatory committee meeting.

COMMUNITY

Rustenburg community march

About 1 500 members of the Rustenburg community on Tuesday marched to the Chamber of Mines’ (CoM‘s) offices, to hand over a memorandum of demands. The demands related to procurement opportunities, employment and social and labour plan delivery issues.

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