INDUSTRIAL ACTION

Ugu municipal workers’ strike ends

A strike by workers in KwaZulu-Natal’s Ugu district municipality ended last Monday.  The strike, by members of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) started in October and lasted for more than three weeks. The cause of the strike allegedly is about a life cover insurance scheme.  The situation was compounded by the sabotage of water infrastructure, allegedly committed by striking workers, who also threatened contracted technicians.

Whirlpool workers’ strike

About 900 workers at global home-appliance manufacturer Whirlpool in KwaZulu-Natal commenced strike action in support of their demand for housing as part of the wage agreement. The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), representing the workers indicated that the lowest paid employee at Whirlpool earns R43 per hour (about R7,800 per month), and this makes accessing decent accommodation almost impossible.

Lonmin faces possible strike by Solidarity re recognition rights

Trade union Solidarity says it will communicate to Lonmin management its members’ grievances around the treatment of skilled employees and what it says is the preferential treatment of members of the Association of Mineworkers and the Construction Union (Amcu) by the company.  This is in an effort to get its recognition rights at Lonmin restored.

WAGE AND OTHER LABOUR NEGOTIATIONS

Sibanye-Stillwater, and unions agree on three-year wage deal for Kroondal

Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater has concluded a three-year wage agreement with all three trade unions representing its workers at the Kroondal platinum-group metals operations.  Solidarity, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) agreed to the deal, which is effective from 1 July.  The agreement will add a R1,000 increase to category B employees’ salaries for each of the next three years, while category A staff will get increases in line with the consumer price index each year.   Sibanye also agreed to a R50 increase in contributions (year-on-year over the next three years) to employees’ current R300 a month medical aid subsidies for category A and B employees.  The increases represent an average escalation of about 7% in the wage bill for the Kroondal operations.

Chamber of Mines Coal producers

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was awarded a certificate by the CCMA giving it a right to go on strike in the coal sector. According to the Num negotiations between the NUM and the Chamber of Mines have officially collapsed. The Num is currently reporting back to members. Indications are that settlement has in main been reached by the major producers whilst agreement is still outstanding with some of the small producers – the Num therefore is holding the major producers ransom in this centralized process to get movement from the smaller producers. The NUM is demanding a once-off payment of R1‚100 for the year 2017‚ 8% for 2018 and 9‚5% for 2019. The union added it would only sign a 3-year agreement provided the Chamber of Mines agrees to remain in the Collective Bargaining Forum.

Government wage negotiations

Bloomberg writes that SA faces a stark choice in the forthcoming state wage negotiations, namely risk strikes by as many as 1.3m government workers or meet their pay demands and jeopardise its credit rating.  After years of above-inflation increases, public-sector unions now want nothing less than “double-digit” raises from April 2018, in addition to better housing benefits.  The National Treasury has budgeted for average pay increases of no more than 7.3% in each of the next three fiscal years.  “We cannot afford the government wage bill.  We have got to either give people an increase below the rate of inflation, or we are going to have to employ fewer people,” said leading economist Mike Schüssler.  Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba tabled a bleak picture of the nation’s finances last month with his medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS).  Last week, Nehawu, which has 295,000 members and speaks for the largest number of public sector employees, said it would reject offers of less than 10% and claimed that pleas for austerity were undermined by reports of corruption at state companies.  State employees represented by the Public Service Association (PSA) want increases of 10% to 12%.  Nehawu’s Khaya Xaba said that, if the government wanted to offer members a single-digit increase like 7.3%, “then we have to withdraw our labour power and take the issue to the streets.”

UNTU and Satawu submit demand to Transnet for 12% increase

The United National Transport Union (UNTU) and the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) submitted their consolidated wage demands to Transnet for a 12% salary increase for each of the next three years.  For employees who earned less than R100,000 per year (i.e. the lowest paid employees), there should be an additional 2% per year.  Over the period of the three-year agreement, there should be no forced retrenchments.  Steve Harris, UNTU general secretary, said the demand was justifiable given the fact that Transnet announced on 30 October that its profits had soared to R37.1bn, while its revenue rose by 13.8%.  Other demands relate to an increase in the company’s contribution to employees’ medical aid, a housing allowance increase and for all other allowances to be increased by 12%.  Further demands relate to post-retirement funeral and medical aid coverage. The negotiations are scheduled to continue on 27 November at the Transnet Bargaining Council.

New dispute lodged against SABC by Bemawu

After a failed attempt to force the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to increase workers’ salaries‚ the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu) has re-lodged a dispute with the public broadcaster.  The union’s Hannes du Buisson indicated that they had instituted a fresh salary dispute‚ demanding a 10% salary increase. Bemawu represents about 1‚800 members at the SABC‚ and the Communication Workers Union (CWU), has about 1‚500.

EMPLOYMENT AND OTHER ECONOMICS MATTERS

Cidb concerned over 140,000 construction job losses

The Construction Industry Development Board (Cidb), described the loss of 140,000 jobs in the local construction industry between the first and third quarters of this year as “disheartening”.  The construction industry is an important job creator in the country, having a multiplier effect.  These job losses are said to be a reflection of the pressure that the construction industry is under.  There were 0.8% and 0.5% contractions in the construction industry quarter-on-quarter in the first and second quarters of the year.  Since 2008, the construction industry has created around 184,000 jobs, however, this had not been enough to accommodate the new entrants in the labour force.  From a provincial perspective, four provinces stand out in terms of their contribution to employment in the construction sector, namely the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.  Over the past two quarters, Gauteng has shed 113,000 jobs.

Changing labour market structure means no prospect of unemployment coming down

The changing structure of SA’s labour market means the country is unlikely to see any reduction in its high levels of unemployment.  This was one of the key findings of the latest Fast Facts report published by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).  IRR analyst Gabriela Mackay commented:  “This is particularly worrying as the change in structure means that there is no longer a large low and semi-skilled sector capable of absorbing the bulk of the labour force lacking the skills and education to find jobs in the skilled sector.  Today‚ education is the key factor; the absorption rate is highest for those with a tertiary education‚ at 75.6%‚ while for those with matric it is 50.3%.”  Another worrying trend in the report is that SA’s overall labour force absorption remains low at 43.3%‚ with young black people being most affected by unemployment.  On the scope for creating jobs, Mackay said:  “It is unlikely that there will be any improvement‚ and we can expect to see a continuing trend of job shedding and increasing unemployment rates.”

REMUNERATION AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

Stakeholder briefings on minimum wage and amendments to BCEA and LRA

The Department of Labour commenced its briefing sessions with trade unions on the introduction of a national minimum wage (NMW) policy and proposed amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA).  This is ahead of even broader stakeholder consultations.  Experts have remarked that the new pieces of legislation, which include stricter regulation of strikes, will have a significant effect on the country’s collective bargaining system and could either strengthen or weaken it.

Employers, trade unions and labour analysts have been critical of the system over the years, claiming it failed to deal with labour market instability, especially in relation to disputed wage agreements and prolonged strikes over salary disputes.  A bill that sets the NMW wage at R20 an hour for major sectors — which excludes farm workers at R18 and domestic workers at R15 — is expected to become law in May 2018.

COMMUNITY

Zimbabweans and SA exemption permits

An estimated 200,000 working Zimbabweans in SA use legal Special Dispensation Permits that expire on the last day of the year.  However, former Minister of Home Affairs, Hlengiwe Mkhize, gave a last-minute reprieve, allowing them to apply for a new work permit, namely the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit, by 30 November.

Zimbabweans seeking exemption permits have to apply at 10 Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) centres and have fingerprints taken.  But the sheer number of people still to be seen by the end of November has many deeply concerned.  There is only one VFS centre in Gauteng, in Midrand, which sees on average more than 1,800 people a day and VFS staff leave as late as midnight.  Tens of thousands of appointments must be completed by month-end.  But Jiten Vyas, chief operating officer for Africa at VFS Global, said:  “We are fully prepared and confident that we will complete the quantum of applications within the time lines as prescribed by the Department of Home Affairs.”

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