South Africa: Strike action against retrenchment of workers in Macsteel continues into third day

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) alleges that the company dismissed 99 workers on December 11, the first day of holiday season, to prevent the union from taking action against it.

January 19, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
NUMSA members pickte Macsteel on on Tuesday, January 19. Photo: Twitter NUMSA Media

The strike action at Macsteel in Gauteng, South Africa will continue onto the third day January 20, as the meeting between the management and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) did not lead to a resolution of the dispute over retrenchment of 99 employees.

Macsteel, which describes itself as “Africa’s leading manufacturer, merchandiser and distributor of steel and value added steel.. (supplying) the entire Sub-Saharan geographic region,” had retrenched these workers during the pandemic.

NUMSA points out that “the decision to dismiss them was implemented” on December 11, 2020, the very day the holidays for the festive season began. “This was done deliberately to prevent workers and the union from being able to act to prevent it,” the union maintains.

Condemning this “tactic”, NUMSA mobilized the workers after the company reopened on January 4, and issued a 48-hour strike notice on January 16. Of the total of 2,500 employees in the company, 1,400 of them, who are represented by NUMSA, have been on strike since January 18, demanding the immediate reinstatement of the 99 employees.

NUMSA’s national spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi Majola, told Peoples Dispatch that the union has learnt from the company’s finances – which they were able to read during the talks about retrenchments last year – that since 2016, Macsteel has been using the money saved through job-cuts to pay generous bonuses to the company’s managers and executives.

“We believe this is the same strategy they are using even now,” adds the union’s press-release. “This is an example of rampant profiteering at its worst. Greedy capitalists are exploiting the pandemic for themselves, at the expense of the working class. They have no regard for the suffering of employees, or the impact on workers and their families during a pandemic.”