Union tension rises with new rival to Numsa

The arrival of a new metal, engineering and car sector union, the Liberated Metalworkers Union of SA (Limusa), is likely to add strain to an already fragile labour environment and heighten the battle for members in the sector, according to newspaper reports.

Union rivalry in the country has resulted in intimidation, prolonged and violent strikes and unrealistic wage demands as new unions push to impress potential members so as to grow their membership. This in turn hits production and profits, threatens jobs and potentially scares off investors.

A case in point is the contest in the mining sector between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) for members.

Chris Hart, an Investment Solutions economist, said NUM and Amcu’s rivalry was extremely bad and that any new union rivalry would be negative for the country.

“People were not just beaten up (Marikana, August 2012), but some were killed and that is how bad union rivalry was,” said Hart.

Competition was not welcomed by the unions because they lost members and subscription fees and any new union was bound to face a difficult environment, he added. Limusa, which claims a membership of 10 000, is canvassing in the National Union of Metalworkers of SA’s (Numsa) backyard. Numsa is South Africa’s largest trade union with about 338 000 members.

Limusa was formed and headed by former Numsa president Cedric Gina, who is Limusa’s acting general secretary. He resigned from Numsa in November 2013 after disagreements between him and the Numsa leadership over the move by the union to consider pulling out of the ANC-led tripartite alliance.

Limusa has approached Cosatu, the country’s largest trade union federation, to be enlisted as an affiliate union. Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini confirmed that the federation was considering Limusa’s application.

The expulsion of Numsa last year resulted in Cosatu losing monthly subscriptions of R900 000. Dlamini denied that Limusa was set to replace Numsa.

Free Market Foundation labour market economist Loane Sharp believed Limusa was a threat to Numsa and its arrival would create union rivalry in the sector.

“They will give Numsa a run for its money and this will create rivalry and intimidation in the sector,” said Sharp.

Limusa was unlikely to provide any relief to Cosatu’s membership and financial challenges because the union was not yet audited and would take time to increase its membership in Numsa’s turf.

Gina said the union would have financial statements audited after a year and that he anticipated holding its elective congress in May this year. Limusa was issued its certificate by the Labour Department last year.

Gina said Limusa was setting up offices and negotiating lease agreements in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg with its headquarters in Durban.