INDUSTRIAL ACTION & RELATED COMMUNITY ACTIVISM

Transport industry strike

The CCMA facilitated talks to end the strike in the transport industry have not yet resulted in a breakthrough with the strike set to continue into this week. The SA Road Passenger Bargaining Council (SARPBAC) approached the CCMA for help, and the talks involve all of the unions and employer associations in the industry: The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), the Transport and Omnibus Workers Union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the Tirisano Transport Workers Union, the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation and SA Bus Employers Association.  The strike, over a wage dispute, has put around 80% of the country’s passenger buses on lockdown.

Kalagadi mine and Northern Cape activism

There is continuous community action targeting Kalagadi Mine (a manganese mine near Hotazel). The action is focused on unresolved issues as well as recruitment policies applied by Murray and Roberts, the company that was awarded the mining contract at the mine. The action spilled last Friday and Saturday to Batlharos where learners at a local school became involved. Police had to use force to maintain order.  It is anticipated that the activists will again try and block the roads leading to Kalagadi. This action will impact negatively on the other producers since the same main roads are used by all producers. A road-blocking activity of using dumper trucks to dump a large volume of sand or debris on the road has been used and is again expected during the next week. The latter is similar to past practice at the Mpumalanga coalfields. Kalagadi community activists are demanding to meet with the executive chairperson of Kalagadi Mine. In addition Baga Motlhware community leaders are planning protest action on Monday in Kuruman to demand the release of protesters that were arrested last Thursday and Friday.

Health sector union asks Ramaphosa to intervene in North West health crisis

The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa) has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to urgently intervene in the ailing state of public health in the North West.  The North West Department of Health (DoH) has been the subject of a number of irregular contracts awarded by senior officials‚ with some implicated in a string of dodgy deals‚ said Hospersa’s Noel Desfontaines.  He pointed out that the province had also been hit by disruptions in service delivery‚ resulting in many public health facilities closing down due to industrial action by public service unions over poor working conditions.   The union appealed to its members not to engage in any form of vandalism and intimidation or in any deliberate closure of health facilities.  In his intervention‚ the president was requested to address the deep levels of corruption and maladministration within the province’s DoH.

REMUNERATION AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS (INCL WAGE NEGOTIATIONS)

Unions to pronounce on Monday on way forward in respect of public sector wage talks

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the public sector unions represented in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) expressed their frustration at the number of delays and obstacles presented by the employer (being the State) in the finalisation of a wage agreement.  In that regard, they noted that the negotiations commenced in September 2017 and have been going on for seven months.   The unions involved in the talks said they would decide and make a pronouncement on the way forward by no later than Monday, 23 April 2018.

Council for Medical Schemes presses on with plan to consolidate medical schemes industry

It is expected that the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) will finalise a draft consultative framework on consolidating the medical schemes industry within two months.  Industry consolidation is in line with government policy on National Health Insurance (NHI), but is likely to run into fierce opposition from industry players and civil servants.  CEO Sipho Kabane indicated that the framework would contain proposals for consolidating government-funded schemes for public servants, reducing the number of scheme benefit options and consolidating schemes that had less than the statutory requirement of 6,000 members.  While the Medical Schemes Act stipulates that schemes must have at least 6,000 members to be registered, this threshold has never been enforced as small stable schemes have been permitted to continue with their operations.  All but three of the 31 schemes with fewer than 6,000 members at the end of 2015 were restricted employer groups, which generally subsidised members on low incomes, enabling them to buy cover they could not afford on the open market.  The medical scheme industry had 8.87-million members at the end of 2016.

EMPLOYMENT AND LABOUR ECONOMIC MATTERS

Resilient’s share plunge leaves employees to repay their share purchase scheme loans

Until early January 2018, employees of Resilient were upbeat and positive about the Company’s share scheme, but with the sharp drop in the value of Resilient’s share price, employees’ profit on their share investment has turned into a loss.  For years, the property company has lent its workers money to buy its own shares.  The R630m debt on the 8.4m outstanding shares in the scheme wasn’t a problem when, as at June 2017, this debt was comfortably covered by the shares, which were valued at just over R1bn.  But at the end of March 2018, the value of the shares had slumped to R419m, about R210m short of the debt owed.  High-profile reports critical of Resilient, and released in January, touched on the possibility that the company used employee share purchasing to bump up the share price.  If the Resilient share price doesn’t recover to at least R75 within the next few years the employees will be in a nightmarish debt trap and could find themselves working just to repay the loan on their scheme.  Leaving the company for fresher debt-free pastures might also not be an option as it’s likely to trigger repayment of any outstanding debts.

Consumer inflation slows in March to 3.8%

Consumer inflation slowed to 3.8% in March, surprising economists who had expected it to accelerate slightly from February’s 4%.  But, inflation is likely to rise in April when the increase in value added tax (VAT) took effect.  The slowdown in inflation in March, as measured by the annual change in the consumer price index (CPI), was helped by March’s 36c/litre drop in petrol and 47c/litre drop in diesel prices.  Statistics SA reported on Wednesday that the transport component of CPI fell 0.7% from February to January.  Over the year, transport was 2.8% more expensive.  The food component of CPI showed annual inflation of 3.6%, with deflation of 4.8% for bread and cereals mitigating a 10% rise in meat prices.

DA says minimum wages should be sectoral and set by an independent panel

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has rejected a blanket national minimum wage (NMW), arguing that this would lead to job losses and lock out the unemployed from the labour market.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, Parliament’s labour portfolio committee received oral presentations from various stakeholders on three labour bills.  The bills propose the setting of a NMW at R20 per hour or R3,500 a month, except for domestic and farm workers, whose rate will be set at R15 and R18 an hour.  Noting that the amendments would replace the current sectoral minimum wage approach with a blanket NMW the DA indicated that they cannot support such legislation.  The DA proposes instead the establishment of an independent panel mandated to set minimum wages for each sector.  The panel would take into consideration all relevant factors, including the need to create jobs.  The DA’s federal council will also be considering the idea of a job seekers’ exemption certificate, which would give unemployed persons the right to take jobs at a wage they found acceptable.

LEGAL, SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE

Business Unity SA I main supports labour law amendments

Business Unity SA (Busa) is supportive of amendments to legislation to introduce provisions to enhance labour relations stability and the implementation of a National Minimum Wage (NMW).  However, the employers’ lobby group warned that the risks to employment and business, particularly smaller and emerging businesses, had to be carefully managed.  In its submission to the Portfolio Committee on Labour on Wednesday, Busa stood behind the provisions contained in the Labour Relations Amendment Bill that reflected a “delicate package” of compromises arising out of the Nedlac negotiations.  Key provisions include compulsory default picketing rules for all industrial action; making the requirement for a secret ballot explicit; and the introduction of advisory arbitration aimed at resolving prolonged or violent strikes.  In addition, in relation to the NMW amendments, Busa stated that, while the wage level was considerably higher than an economically efficient level, it recognised the need for SA to address wage inequality and for the most vulnerable workers to be protected.  Busa expressed particular concern that the NMW exemption system should operate efficiently and be accessible for businesses regardless of size.

Public sector employees still feeding off the state through private businesses

Public sector employees continue to do significant amounts of business with the state despite it being prohibited because of the conflict of interest involved.  An amount of R8bn was paid to 2,349 businesses in which state employees were involved between April 2017 and end-January 2018.  These suppliers had 2,704 state employees listed on the government’s central supplier database as owners, directors or non-executive directors.  The people involved were employees of national and provincial governments, some municipalities and three public entities.  The figures were disclosed in a report by Treasury on state employees conducting business with government as at February 2018, as tabled in Parliament.  A total of 28,427 state employees were registered as owners, directors or non-executive directors of businesses on the database operated by the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer.  Public servants doing business with the state were given a deadline of 31 January 2017 to either resign from the public service or relinquish their business interests.

Index finds top mining firms lacking in protecting female workers

The Responsible Mining Foundation (www.responsibleminingindex.org) indicated in its first review of global mining practices – The Responsible Mining Index – that little action had been taken in monitoring how mining affected children and protected female workers from harassment and sexual exploitation.   Launched in Geneva on 11 April, the index assessed the policies and practices of 30 large companies that produce 25% of mined commodities, from gold to copper and coal, operating in more than 40 countries.   Hélène Piaget, CEO of the Responsible Mining Foundation, said the results showed many companies had introduced responsible mining policies and had made improvements in tackling corruption and limiting the impact of their operations on climate change, but they were lacking in other areas.  Policies were not always “translated into effective actions”, Piaget pointed out.

UNION POLITICS

Zingiswa Losi may be next Cosatu president

From media reports it seems that there is a strong push under way within Cosatu to ensure that Zingiswa Losi, the labour federation’s second deputy president, is elected the first woman to lead the organisation at its national congress later this year.  S’dumo Dlamini, who has been Cosatu president for more than two terms, is unlikely to stand for re-election as he appears to have lost his power grip at the federation.  This was evident when he was criticised by his own comrades for attending former president Jacob Zuma’s lavish birthday party when Cosatu had taken a stand that Zuma should step down.  On Tuesday, Cosatu affiliates such as the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) gave the strongest indications yet that they preferred a woman to succeed Dlamini.  Denosa Gauteng chairman Simphiwe Gada said some have viewed Losi as better than the male leaders that surround her.  Popcru’s Richard Mamabolo said:  “We are a nonsexist organisation.”  Piet Matosa, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said Losi was not elected to her current position based on gender, but because of her ability in “implementing the federation’s resolutions”.

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