The strike by workers in the plastic sector in South Africa continues as employers have refused to accept the demands of the unions. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) that is representing these workers, who have been on strike since October 15, met the employers last week, said union spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola. However, talks broke down mid-way as the employers did not agree to the workers’ demands, such as paying them according to the old rate of R40 per hour instead of the new R20 per hour rate stipulated under the national minimum wage, as well as the demand for a 15% salary increase.
NUMSA also released a statement dated November 14, stating that it intended to challenge the temporary contempt of court order issued by the labour court to prevent plastic sector workers from striking on account of being violent while on strike.
The Plastics Converters Association of South Africa (PCASA) was granted the contempt order after it filed an urgent application last Friday, citing what it called was the use of violence and intimidation by NUMSA members during the strike.
Nearly 10,000 workers from the sector have been taking part in the strike, demanding higher wages and better benefits. Nearly 450 companies in the plastics and plastics-related sectors have been affected, including mobile phones, IT, automotive etc.
In addition to the wage demands, workers want employers to comply with the MEIBC (Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council) agreements, treating plastic workers just like workers belonging to other industries.
The MEIBC agreements of 2014 granted certain rights and benefits to workers, such as pension funds, provident funds, sick pay, and a dispute resolution agreement. The agreement was valid from 2015 to 2017, following which NUMSA began fighting in court to obtain an extension of this agreement.
Workers are also demanding that employers resume paying them leave enhancement pay, which was recently stopped, besides providing them with overtime pay for the recently increased working hours from 40 to 45. Workers are also demanding that the employers reverse their decision to reduce leave entitlement for workers with more than four years of service from four weeks to three. Employers are also implementing the discriminatory measure of categorizing workers’ pay by area, stating that workers in the outlying, non-urban areas will be paid 10% less than workers in urban areas, such as Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Ms. lubi-Majola said NUMSA would be challenging the court order in the next hearing against the order being made final. If it is made final, both the union and its office bearers could face fines.
NUMSA also criticized the claims regarding violence during the strike, stating there were other organizations, as well as workers unaffiliated to any unions that were involved in the strike, and added that singling out one organization was wrong.
It also noted that employers had responded with violence towards the workers, resorting to the use of a private security company which ended up shooting rubber bullets at workers at Mpact in Pinetown while they were taking part in an unarmed, peaceful demonstration. The employers were also locking out workers. They had even resorted to using devious tactics like forcing some workers to sign individual agreements which were inferior to what the unions and protesting workers were demanding, NUMSA noted.
While urging its members to conduct themselves in a peaceful and disciplined manner, NUMSA urged the employers to return to the negotiating table so that an amicable solution could be reached.