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South African plastics strike enters sixth week

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30 November, 2018Over 10,000 workers in the plastics sector are on strike for the sixth week to demand better wages and working conditions, and to stop the erosion of wages and benefits.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) called for the indefinite strike on 15 October with support from another affiliate, the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union, and other unions.

The unions are demanding that the employer organizations, the National Employers Association of South Africa and the Plastics Converters Association of South Africa (PCASA), improve wages and benefits instead of removing them. For example, the unions are condemning the reduction of wages, in some grades, by 50 per cent and are calling upon employers to restore bonuses and leave benefits.

NUMSA is demanding that workers in the plastics sector be paid same wages as other workers in the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), which the plastics sector falls under. The MEIBC has a 2017 to 2020 agreement, which gives workers a better deal, and was signed by NUMSA and other unions. But the employers are refusing.

The strike is affecting over 450 companies along the plastics value chain and NUMSA has been picketing at plastics factories in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal.

However, management response has been to intimidate workers to sign “inferior individual agreements”, lockouts and violence including hiring private security companies to shoot at workers as what happened at Mpact in Pinetown.

NUMSA has rejected accusations of strike violence by plastics companies and blames infiltration by “criminal elements and agent provocateurs.” NUMSA says the companies are using the courts to break the strike. For instance, the recent temporary order, if finalized, will fine NUMSA R1 million (US$73,000), general secretary Irvin Jim and sector coordinator Vusi Mabho R100,000 (US$7,300) each for strike violence. The union is challenging the court order.

Says Andrew Chirwa, NUMSA president:

“Instead of engaging us, employers keep rushing to court to make frivolous court applications to undermine the strike. It is in everyone’s interest to resolve the strike. We repeat the call for employers to come to the table and negotiate meaningfully and in good faith!”

Jim explains why the strike is on:

“We are fighting for workers in the plastics sector to retain wages and benefits which they fought so hard for. It is unfair and immoral that they should unilaterally be denied these benefits. They are the creators of wealth and deserve a living wage and better life.”