Posted on: July 5, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

SA steel and engineering workers demanded higher wages, lower health and safety risks, and banning of casual labour on 4 July 2011.

Occupational health and safety issues, like a lack of full time health and safety shop stewards being appointed at some steel and engineering employers, maternity leave rules, and study aid to retrenched workers, were raised by National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and related unions, representing most of the 300 000 workers in the sector, along with a 13% wage increase demand.

Metal and engineering workers marched ruing a strike in Johannesburg and Cape Town on July 2011.

Numsa demands improvements in wages and working conditions from employers, including BHP Billiton, where a recent strike was organised. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), representing the majority of workers at BHP Billiton, announced a continuing dispute with the company after long negotiations over wages and working conditions deadlocked in August last year.

An earlier two year agreement had expired in August. BHP Billiton “coerced workers to accept a wage settlement reached with an alternative union, Solidarity, of 7.5% increase”, reports the International Metalworkers Federation.

Numsa’s National Bargaining Conference aims to reverse a trend of “deepening plight and suffering of industrial workers, evidenced in racialised income, and a widening gap between lowest paid workers and senior managers.”

Before the July 2011 strike, Numsa had demanded a 12% wage increase across the board, along with;
• 50% employer contribution to the medical aid scheme
• Full time health and safety shop stewards
• 12% shift allowance
• R50 000 (US$7165) gratuity pay
• R50 000 (US$7,165) study assistance for retrenched workers
• Banning of labour brokers
• Six months full paid maternity leave.

There had been “a hostile effort to take over Rio Tinto and Potash Corporation”, said Numsa general secretary Irwin Jim. “This clearly demonstrates that BHP has the financial muscle to meet the demands of workers.”

Numsa had for several years campaigned for several health and safety ‘core demands’;
• improved health and safety conditions
• health and safety committees to be established in all workplaces by negotiation
• pay and work time for pap smears and prostate testing
• more family responsibility leave time allowance
• employers that fail to comply with legal health and safety measures should be reported to the Department of Labour.

Numsa also has a set of demands from employers related to workers infected by HIV/Aids;
• free anti-retroviral drugs
• access to sustainable anti-retroviral therapy when clinically indicated to be required
• policies and programmes to provide for education, counselling and support for people living with HIV/Aids and their families
• end discrimination against people living with HIV/Aids.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) had offered 7% before wage talks stalled.

Seifsa is supported by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who addressed workers in Newtown, Johannesburg.

In Cape Town, Cosatu Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich told marching strikers in the street outside the Cape Chamber of Commerce, which represents employers in general, that steel and engineering workers want to end labour exploitation in their sector.

Steel and engineering workers also demand banning of labour brokers, and want extra pay for night shifts. Steel and engineering sector products directly impact construction, automotive, electronic and manufacturing sectors.

Night shifts are known to raise workplace health and safety risks, and take a long term health and wellness toll on shift workers.

Casualisation of labour is often used to counter the effects of strikes. Labour argues that casual work teams also raise workplace risks, and place casual labourers at risk, due to deficient training, induction, skills, and experience.

PHOTO; Numsa general secretary Irwin Jim is involved in drafting and agitating for wages, job security, and health and safety conditions of steel and engineering workers.

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