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Latest strike exasperates employers and could force alternative thinking going forward

The latest strike action in the steel and related industries called for by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) has left many business owners exasperated, angry, frustrated and looking for alternative manufacturing options such as automation so that they are less dependent on labour. It might not be the solution to our high unemployment rate but it has reached a point whereby survival without been dictated to by a minority that have senseless agendas of self-destruction governed by forces that do not feel the repercussions of no work no pay, is becoming a more viable option to them.

The National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) issued a notice of lock-out against the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) to its members.

It read: “The notice of lock-out is in response to a notice of intention to commence strike action, on 5 October 2021, as received from NUMSA. The industrial action emanates from a dispute regarding wages and other conditions of employment which NUMSA has declared against all employer parties to the MEIBC.”

“NEASA, by far the largest employer body in the Steel Industry, remains principally opposed to the centralised collective bargaining model of the MEIBC, where mainly big businesses, situated in South Africa’s economic hubs, and primarily NUMSA, negotiate wage deals which they then attempt to extend to SMMEs operating under entirely different economic and operational circumstances throughout the country.”

“NEASA is strongly opposed to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach pursued by both the competing employer federation, Seifsa, and the trade union, NUMSA, and therefore remains of the unwavering view that it is for every individual business to determine the levels of remuneration of its employees, based on its unique circumstances and financial ability.”

Social media communication
As is the case these days many took to the various social media platforms to express their feelings and opinions. We have chosen some of these but left names out for obvious reasons.

“Some days I just lose hope. Our industry is just recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions and now we are facing strike action. The frustration is that we are forced to shutdown and all employees, union or not, cannot work. Where is our democratic right to earn a living. Nobody wins!!! The most frustrating fact is that we have two minority factions deciding what the majority must do. Just be thankful you have a job and that your company hasn’t closed down. Let us get on with producing and trying to recover our industry and our economy.”

“Enough is enough of this strike by NUMSA in the steel industry. Is no one bothered by the effect that this is having on all parties concerned? Hell man is there no government intervention??? Livelihoods are be being destroyed for personal agendas here. Mr President and all corrupt members of parliament you need to intervene urgently now. Start earning your salary and do something because if you don’t jobs will be lost and companies will close. Wake up!!! Let’s resolve this pathetic strike and let us get on with work. So many people want to but have had their human rights stripped from them. All you so called employer organisations catch a wake up quickly.”

“The silence over this strike in the media is deafening. We have had to lock up and evacuate several times over the last weeks, customers have had windows broken and threats made against non-striking workers. Any workforce should have the right to peacefully strike, but they should have the right to work, if they choose to! When will the strikers realise that the gains they may get will be lost to recovering the pay they have lost?”

“SAPS responses to employers and employees being threatened with violence and death is pitiful to say the least. SAPS is treating the employers and employees whii op are working as criminals, with statements made to the effect that they should “know better” than to work. Pathetic. People are being held hostage in workshops because they chose to work and not participate in the strike. No newspapers are reporting on the violence seen by companies suffering the brunt of the strikers. SAPS isn’t even bothering to patrol specific areas to ensure that the strike remains peaceful. It is a couple of weeks before the industry shuts down for December… do these strikers not realise that they have already lost three weeks of pay and that their December leave payouts will be detrimentally affected? No work no pay guys…how will they feed their families? Time to realise the union bosses only have their own pockets in mind and not that of the workers.”

“Just before election time, the ANC leadership dare not do anything to upset the tripartite alliance. The ANC care about votes more than the wellbeing of the country and the very jobs that the tripartite alliance is supposedly there to protect. Retaining power comes before all else. I hope this ends soon.”

“This is effecting a lot of businesses outside the steel industry that depend on fabricators like yourselves. It can’t go on like this. The ANC and their policies are killing businesses and creating even more unemployment – come on South Africans wake up!”

“We are now seeing the inner soul of communist Africa. The truth is the unions are bankrupt, communism doesn’t create wealth, only entitled leaches. It’s a behind the scenes government backed strike to keep the unions on their side for the upcoming elections. It’s a rent a crowd that costs millions and the country is losing millions. The unions are in dire straits to regain their income stream and the ruling party to cling to power.”

“I wish I had something to say that would cheer you up. Unfortunately, I do not. The sad thing is that we as South Africans have an inherent self-destruct mentality that has been nurtured over many centuries. Have a closer look at our history and you will find a divided people who, over many generations, have fought intermittent wars centred on land-grab and exclusion of others. When we cannot have what we want, we simply destroy what others have.”

“Unions only care about contributing members, the monthly debit order for fees and the annual strike (termed negotiations). They don’t care for the unemployed, poor, service delivery of their members, the union leadership just look after themselves. Monthly fees get invested via special purpose vehicles on the stock exchange to enrich the union leadership, to live a lavish lifestyle and drive German motor vehicles. They don’t care if they close your business down, whilst driving the “interest” of the worker. They don’t care about tomorrow 😒”

“100%. Yet when employees need money for anything they come running to us. Clearly have a short memory. The union’s can’t even help their members with funerals.”

“I fully agree! Unfortunately people only realise what they lost after its lost! Sometimes I wonder when the challenges stop and progress starts…. At this stage, never! Sad that we finally have some work and we missing the opportunity to capitalise!”

“Exactly. The private sector gets the blame for everything. Yet we are the only ones investing and employing. We are seriously going to lose more work internationally.”

“Well said. I don’t think they realise the consequences of these insane deeds. People can hardly survive in the current state of the economy. I am sure there is a lot of people willing to work for the minimum of R12 000.00 per month just to feed hungry families and save them from starvation. Those who are still privileged to have a job and income do not realise it …….UNTIL IT WILL BE TOO LATE FOR 😪”

“If it was not for the private sector this industry would have been dead long ago. They brought down Denel,Iscor, Eskom and other SOE’s with their corruption and greed. I have a lot of respect for private company owners that keeps on trying to lift a Dead Horse.”

“I am of the opinion that centralised bargaining has run its course and has resulted in more losses than gains. It’s time to kick SEIFSA into touch and start negotiating at shop floor level. Unions only have power because centralised bargaining has been given to them.”

“Are our wages fare. Are our employees happy? Each company and their employees need to answer. If yes, then we need to start to mobilise. The happy people outnumber the protesters 100:1 so we need to show the people how we feel. We need to strike for our jobs. We also need to take to the streets. Be democratic. If we don’t we will pay the price in the same way as we have let the crooks in government loot our country. DO NOT LET A FEW INFLUENCE THE FUTURE OF THE MAJORITY. MY THOUGHTS. HAPPY TO MEET WITH LIKE MINDED PEOPLE TO EFFECT CHANGE.”

“Not in our life time will this change!”

“That’s why I encourage South African companies to automate as far as possible. China didn’t become a super power with manual labour. Also machines never strike or ask for an increase.”

“Unions. They’re never short of a penny. A guy had one of the biggest Melamine factories in Africa and he shut the doors. 300 out of a job. Gave the keys to the government financers and said sue me.
General Motors packed up and left. They still don’t see the light.”

“The sad reality is that the ones who will suffer most in the long run, are exactly those that are striking. Anyone in SA that has a skill that can be marketed and sold on the international market, has that option now becoming more available. The one advantage of COVID….it taught us that we can work remotely, and it is a small step to then have an employer (or multiple employers) that are not even based in your own country. You cannot mine remotely (not yet anyway), you cannot work on a shop floor remotely, etc. So the unions and their members have to think carefully about the future of this type of action. South Africa is also not the only country with mineral resources, countries like the DRC compete with us in that market.”

“I agree 100%, I believe that the time has come to stand up as a collective against these destructive criminals!! Our protective services is shining in their absence!! And these looters are running the show!! Shocking, shocking behaviour and no respect for their fellow men, property and or the direction they are taking this country to!!”

There were many more posts of a similar conversation. What was noticeable is that there were no posts, at least in this thread, that were supporting the unions or strikers. All very much opposed and the level of anger was very much evident.

Thank goodness the strike did end on 22 October but at what cost?

SAB Chamdor Depot
I did make a trip out to Chamdor, Krugersdorp while the strike was on and it was very depressing to see how the effect of the strike had taken its toll on most of the engineering companies in the area. They were either closed or had cleverly hidden the cars or made some alternative arrangement for transport because there were many that did want to work.

However, what was almost comical if the situation was not so serious, was that the SAB Chamdor depot was a hive of activity. Obviously the strikers had their priorities in order as compared to the government’s attitude towards alcohol during lockdown. Even though they are allies I think this was deleted from the memo.

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