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NUMSA considers legal action to stop violence against strikers

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6 June, 2024The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, is considering taking legal action against employers after a striking worker was shot dead by a security guard at multinational automotive air conditioning and engine cooling systems manufacturer MAHLE Bher, a factory in KwaZulu-Natal last month. 

Over 10 workers were hospitialized after they were injured when a heavily armed guard opened fire on striking workers.

“NUMSA condemns MAHLE Bher for this unnecessary loss of life of comrade Njabulo Mpulo, the heavy handedness of its security, and the decision by the company to use heavily armed and aggressive security during a protected strike. Workers have the right to strike. We will be considering legal action because we have lost one of our members,” 

said Mzamo Khoza, the union’s regional secretary for KwaZulu-Natal Province.

In another incident at SA Steel Mills, which trades as Alfeco Holdings, four workers were shot with rubber bullets at close range and hospitalized. The workers were protesting the dismissals of 162 workers who lost their jobs after going on a protected strike. The union is demanding protection of striking workers as per the law. The SA Steel Mills workers have been on strike since 22 May and will picket on 7 June at the offices of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to demand recognition of shop stewards so as to enable them to defend workers' rights and interests at the workplace. Further, the union wants compliance with health and safety laws to curb serious regular accidents at the company in which some workers have been killed.

NUMSA has been reminding employers that workers have a right to strike according to the South African constitution and that the Labour Relations Act (LRA) also protects this right. The laws also protect the rights to form and join a trade union and to participate in union activities and programmes.

Additionally, the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that the employer must ensure that the work environment is safe and without health risks to workers. However, during strike action employers have used excessive force to break strikes often injuring workers as in these two cases that NUMSA raised. 

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, who is also responsible for health and safety, said:

“The use of excessive force by security companies contracted by employers is unlawful. It is unacceptable that workers continue to lose their lives for exercising their right to strike. This violence against striking workers negates the social dialogue and collective bargaining approaches that unions are always using to resolve labour disputes.”