South Africa: The Working Class must gear up to defend the right to strike and fight for a living wage!

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Source: NUMSA / The Dawn News / January 9, 2018

Photo: Daily Maverick

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which represents over 350 thousand workers and their families is calling on all members of the working class to unite to fight for a living wage and to defend the right to strike. From May 2018 the government intends to implement changes to the Labour Relations Act (LRA), Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), and it intends to implement the National Minimum Wage Bill of R20 per hour. Together these changes are an attack on the working class and their families because they reduce the hard won rights which workers fought and died for under Apartheid. One of the greatest threats to the working class is the proposal to limit the right to strike. The Department of Labour has been holding public consultations on these proposals and Wednesday 10th January 2018 is the final day for submissions on the proposed changes.

Below are nine reasons why NUMSA has rejected the proposed changes to the legislation:

1. We reject any limitation on the right to strike. We reject the proposal for the implementation of secret ballots during strikes because it is a cleverly disguised way of attacking our constitutional right to strike. The South African working class fought and died under Apartheid for the right to strike and we will fight any attempt to undermine this right. Farmworkers are being abused and killed by employers and the department of labour has failed to address this crisis, but it is willing to act in cahoots with business to attack the working class and their families, with these backward proposals.

2. We reject the proposal which grants the Minister of the Labour the power to get a court interdict to suspend a lengthy strike. The purpose of this proposal is to ensure that workers do not have the power to bring the bosses to their knees through lengthy strike action. One of the weapons that workers have is the power to withdraw labour and this clause will take away this power. This proposal undermines the principle of worker control and is an attack on our constitutional right to strike.

3. We reject the Code of Good Practice on Collective Bargaining, Industrial Action and Picketing because it is based on the racist assumption that African workers are violent savages. It does not acknowledge the brutality of the capitalist system on the working class and the role it plays in brutalizing the working class and the poor. In essence the Code blames workers who are victims of a violent capitalist system, the same way that patriarchy blames women for being victims of rape. NUMSA rejects the Code in its entirety with the contempt it deserves.

4. NUMSA demands a living wage and rejects the proposed National Minimum Wage (NMW) of R20 per hour.
It is important to state upfront that we are not opposed to a National Minimum Wage (NMW). However we believe it must be an amount designed to abolish the Apartheid wage gap. NUMSA demands a living wage, not just a minimum wage. A recent survey by StatsSA found that white South African households still earn the highest average incomes in the country at approximately R444,446 a year. This is almost 5 times more than black South Africans, who earn R92,893 per year, and yet they represent over 80% of the population, compared to Whites who make up just 8%. A NMW of R20 per hour does not even begin to bridge the unequal wage gap between the African majority and the white minority. It re-enforces the inequality which was a hallmark of the Apartheid system. Furthermore, the miners of Marikana were murdered by the state for daring to demand a living wage of R12500 per month. The amount of R20 per hour is an insult to their memory.

5. The proposed NMW will spark mass retrenchments. Workers who earn more than R20 per hour are likely to be retrenched. During the 2017 Engineering wage talks, the employers in the sector attempted to use the proposed NMW to down vary conditions, by proposing that new entrants in the sector earn R20 per hour, instead of the minimum rate in engineering of R43 per hour. The bill makes no provisions for dealing with this possibility. In practice, this will undermine the principle of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’. It is also designed to undermine the power of the trade unions to negotiate better working conditions and higher wages on behalf of their members.

6. The NMW must be dynamic. It cannot be some arbitrary figure and it must take into account all the necessary variables, including inflation and the cost of living to determine a dynamic and mobile NMW capable of achieving the demands required to tackle inequality and poverty. The average worker spends at least 40% of their wages on transportation because of the Apartheid spatial development legacy. The working class majority does not have access to safe, cheap, reliable public transport and they live far from their places of work. A wage of R20 per hour is insufficient as an income for working class families who spend large amounts of their wages on transportation costs.

7. Companies must disclose their financials in order to make a true determination of a fair NMW. The NMW can only be set up once all companies have disclosed their revenue and we can see their financial turnovers. The gap between the CEO’s of each and every company must be scrutinized and measured against the wages of ordinary workers. That is the only way to truly establish a fair wage. In 2010 the average South African CEO earned at least 1700 times more than the average worker. This is why NUMSA is demanding that the NMW must be sector based so that it can be based on what companies can actually afford, not a thumb suck figure which is tailored to please White Monopoly Capital and its agents.

8. The state must guarantee a 40 hour work week and must put measures in place to ensure compliance. At the moment the proposed NMW bill only sets a limit of a minimum 4 hour work day, but it does not impose or guarantee a 40 hour work week. This means workers will be at the mercy of employers, and are therefore unlikely to earn the minimum amount of R3500 per month which Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa falsely promised the NMW would achieve.

9. The state must abolish labour brokering and all other abusive, super exploitative labour practices in order to transform society. The majority of workers who are employed through labour brokers suffer the worst kind of exploitation and therefore it should not be allowed to continue. NUMSA won a Labour Appeals Court Decision in 2017 which confirmed that temporary employees automatically become permanent employees of the main employer and are eligible for the same benefits as full time employees, after completing 3 months of service. In light of this court victory, the only logical step is for the state to ban labour brokering completely.

We are calling on all working class formations and structures to reject and fight this assault on the working class. The struggle for a dignified living wage, and the battle to defend our rights will not be won in public hearings. It will be won by the working class in action, on the streets, united in its demands.

Aluta continua!
The struggle continues!
Issued by Irvin Jim
NUMSA General Secretary

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