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South Africa: Striking against precarious work in the plastics sector

14 September, 2017Fed up with precarious working conditions of short-term contracts, low wages and no benefits, workers at Mpact Plastics and Flexible Plastics and Packaging in Pinetown, about 22km from Durban, South Africa went on strike on 13 September. Organized by IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the strikers were demanding permanent jobs and equal pay for work of equal value for contract workers, better wages, overtime pay, and benefits such as medical aid and pension.

At Mpact, 140 contract workers were demanding equal pay as they were paid less than permanent workers. In solidarity, the permanent workers joined them on their demands for US$3 per hour, from the current US$1.50. They also wanted their jobs to become permanent, and not to work as employees of labour brokers. After a recent court victory by NUMSA, labour brokers cannot employ workers for more than three months. Should they do this, the workers will become permanent at current workplaces.

Said NUMSA: “We commend the permanent employees at Mpact for expressing solidarity with their comrades at the workplace by embarking on a sympathy strike”.

At Flexible Plastics workers were paid US$0.69 per hour adding up to US$122 per month. This is below the proposed national minimum wage of US$270, which will take effect from May 2018.

According to the National Minimum Wage Research Initiative (NMWRI) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, a wage of US$318 is required to bring workers and their dependents out of poverty. Studies by NMWRI concluded that about five and a half million workers in South Africa, who supported up to 10 family members, were “the working poor” because of low wages.

IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa, Fabian Nkomo, said: “We support NUMSA’s calls for permanent jobs and improved wages and working conditions in the plastics sector”.