South Africa Labor Court interdicts NUMSA strike at Macsteel 

The union had announced a strike at the steel company on October 11, citing a unilateral withdrawal of employment benefits including medical aid

October 14, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
NUMSA strike South Africa
NUMSA members on strike at Macsteel in January, 2021. (Photo: NUMSA)

On Thursday, October 13, a Labor Court in South Africa issued an interdict against a strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) at leading steel manufacturer, merchandiser and distributor, Macsteel. 

NUMSA announced on October 11 that it has issued a 48-hour notice to Macsteel, stating that its members had been “provoked into striking because management unilaterally withdrew certain benefits without consulting the union.” The union added that it had been engaging with the management to resolve the dispute after the benefits were withdrawn two years ago.

The strike action focused on two demands. The first is the reinstatement of medical aid. The union stated that Macsteel had subsidized employees’ medical aid by 50%. However, it allegedly withdrew this benefit unilaterally and without consulting the workers or the union. 

The second issue was of an accidental benefit for employees who had been affected by retrenchment and were then successfully placed through Macsteel’s placement process. In December 2020, the company retrenched 99 employees citing “worsening economic conditions.” In January 2021, NUMSA declared a strike across all Macsteel plants countrywide to demand that the affected employees be reinstated. The union alleged that the company had been using job cuts as a way to redirect money to pay hefty bonuses to executives and management since 2016. 

The strike was successful. However, in its statement on Wednesday, NUMSA said that Macsteel withdrew the accidental death benefit given to the redeployed workers. In its statement, the company claimed that these workers had become “new employees” and as such were not eligible for the benefit under the “new terms of employment.” 

The majority of the 1,700 workers at Macsteel are NUMSA members. The union had also gone on strike in 2020 after Macsteel management unilaterally cut workers’ salaries by 20%. 

In response to this week’s strike notice, Macsteel “condemned” the action as “an effort to create unnecessary conflict.” It added that any strike action would be unprotected and illegal, and that it would approach the courts to have it declared as such. It also rejected the charges leveled by the union

The strike was interdicted by the court on Thursday and NUMSA will reportedly have until February to present arguments as to why the order must not stand. 

In a statement to Peoples Dispatch, NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola emphasized that the court had not pronounced a ruling on the merits of the case itself. Rather, the interdict was based on issues of process, wherein the court determined that the union had not properly followed the process to embark on strike. 

“In terms of the merits that brought us to the point where members are on strike, which is the unilateral change of the conditions, the Court did not rule on that at all and that dispute still remains.” 

Hlubi-Majola added that this matter will be heard separately on November 4 under the auspices of the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC).