Three workers were injured and taken to hospital when police fired rubber bullets at picketing workers at South 32’s aluminium smelter in Richards Bay in the KwaZulu-Natal province on 2 October.
The 600 striking workers were demanding general wage increases of 7.5 with 8.2 per cent for the lowly paid, medical aid contributions from the employer, a housing allowance of US $367 and equal pay for work of equal value. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), condemned the use of violence against the striking workers.
Instead of meeting the workers’ demands, South 32 came up with proposals for a lower wage increase of 5.1 per cent and offered cash payments. There was even a cash pay-out of $764 if workers agreed to drop all their demands in favour of the company’s offers.
The union, which is intensifying the strike after failing to reach an agreement with the company management, is against the cash payments.
“Ultimately, workers will end up poorer if they do not receive an annual increase. Instead of giving a wage increase they want to try and bribe our members with cash.”
NUMSA also questioned why a global company with operations in Australia, Colombia, and Mozambique, that made 1.23 billion US dollars in profits, “refuses to share the gains with their employees”.
Further, NUMSA was against the use of scab labour from Mozambique as such actions caused violence and xenophobia. The Mozambican workers lived in “sweat shop like conditions” at the plant.
On the violence, NUMSA will lodge a complaint with the police:
“The police continue to be used to unleash violence on the working class, especially when they are exercising their democratic right to protest. It is the role of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to protect protestors, and create an enabling environment for them to express their just demands for better working conditions. But sadly, too often, some members of the SAPS resort to tactics which were practiced by the authoritarian apartheid regime”.
Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said:
“Workers’ rights to strike are protected by South African law, and the police should respect those rights. Use of force and intimidation won’t stop workers from fighting for better wages and working conditions.”