The South African Federation of Trade Unions is 100% in solidarity with its affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, in their struggle in the MEIBC bargaining chamber to negotiate a new wage agreement for workers in the engineering sector.
This is a life-and-death battle not just for NUMSA members but for every worker in South Africa, because if these employers get away with what they are demanding they will have set a dangerous precedent which their colleagues in other sectors are sure to be quick to copy.
This is because whereas in the recent past, wage negotiations focused on the size of the percentage increase in workers’ wages and benefits, in these talks the discussion is the other way round – the employers are trying to impose wage decreases which will see new workers in the sector earning only half of the current minimum rate. Their goal is not to improve working conditions but to worsen them.
The Engineering employers want to slash entry-level salaries by 50%. This proposal will affect mostly young workers entering the sector, by offering them only R20 per hour, when others are earning twice as much.
The bosses even want to penalize women who take maternity leave by denying them their bonus for not working all their shifts; they want to exploit workers by imposing a 45-hour instead of 40-hour working week, and they wish to reduce the annual leave of new entrants from 4 to three weeks.
The employers’ demand is for workers to accept a downward variation of the basic conditions of workers, which will create a two-tier labour market system of equal work for unequal pay.
As NUMSA say: “The Engineering sector remains largely white owned, racist and sexist. The lowest pay is reserved for the African majority and workers continue to be exposed to appalling working conditions. The sector drastically needs to transform but very few changes have taken place. Some companies in this sector frequently violate basic health and safety rules, resulting in workers losing their limbs and sometimes even their lives, and yet these companies hardly experience any severe consequences for their actions.”
“Ultimately agreements of this kind lead to the destruction of trade unions” says NUMSA. They are right. Workers will see no need to pay subs to a union which would accept any such deal. That is why SAFTU, all its affiliates and all workers in South Africa need to march together with NUMSA to defend our whole trade union movement and defend workers’ right to decent pay and to be treated with respect and dignity.
“These kinds of deals,” says NUMSA, “undermine all the work and sacrifices which workers have made to bring changes to the industry, and improve basic conditions for workers. The reason we have labour law legislation to begin with, is precisely because generations of workers fought and died for these principles which did not exist under Apartheid”.
Despicable though they are, the engineering employers are not untypical. They reflect a trend among most employers to do everything possible to cut wages and worsen conditions of employment. They do this in a variety of ways, including imposing short-time working, turning full-time into part-time employment, outsourcing work to contractors or labour brokers or just retrenching staff.
This has led to South Africa’s unemployment reaching the highest level for 13 years, one of the highest rates in the world. It has created a growing army of marginalized workers desperately prepared to take any job that is available whatever the wage. It has plunged thousands of families into poverty, not only among the unemployed but the growing working poor, and it has led to South Africa becoming the most unequal country in the world.
Now all these problems are being exacerbated by the looting of state resources by a corrupt of elite of government ministers, executives of state-owned enterprises and capitalist families like the Guptas.
This is being seized on by the mainstream white monopoly capitalist class as an excuse to demand even more conservative economic policies and austerity programs than those they have already foisted on an ANC government which has already done everything possible to impose neoliberal, free-market policies.
SAFTU is confident that NUMSA’s will never agree to proposals which will violate the basic principles of equal pay for work of equal value and will back them all the way.
If however the employers fail to improve their offer and workers have no choice but to strike, SAFTU will support them all the way and mobilize solidarity action to ensure that they bring the employers to their senses.
If the employers wins, all workers will lose. If NUMSA wins all workers will win too. That is why solidarity is not just a noble ideal but a burning necessity.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Solidarity with engineering workers!