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Union wins against ArcelorMittal's attempt to stifle right to strike

8 December, 2022As one of the ways to stop workers from going on strike, ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) applied to the essential services committee (ESC) to declare the manufacturing, supply and distribution of steel as an essential service. But the committee ruled otherwise, and in favour of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

According to the Labour Relations Act, essential service workers may not take part in strike action. Although the right to strike is protected by the South African constitution, there are limitations when it comes to essential service workers. For example, if essential workers go on strike, the strike will be unprotected, and they may face dismissals.

For an industry to be declared as essential services an application must be made and approved by the ESC. In this case, AMSA made the application hoping to delay the strikes for six days to allow the company to shut down its two blast furnaces.

However, NUMSA argued that this was an attempt to delay strikes and extend the 48-hour notice that is required by law before a strike commences.
NUMSA, affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, provided strong arguments to the ESC. The metalworkers’ union argued that

“the only way the strike notice period can be changed is through the conclusion of a collective agreement between the parties, or by legislative amendment, because the Labour Relations Act does not confer on the ESC the power to perform these functions. Additionally, there is no causal link between the interruption of coke batteries and an imminent danger to life, safety, or health of the whole or part of the population.”

The ESC found that although there are safety risks in the operations of blast furnaces and coke batteries if not shut down in a controlled and well managed manner, the risks are not sufficient to infringe on workers’ rights. The ESC concurred with NUMSA when it concluded that

“there is no basis to limit the right of the employees to strike by designating the service as essential.”

“This is a victory for workers’ and their families because they can exercise the right to strike freely, as part of their negotiating power. AMSA management was defeated in their attempts to limit the right to strike. We call upon workers at AMSA to join NUMSA because we will always fight to defend their interests and would like to thank our officials who worked tirelessly to ensure that we have a positive outcome,”

says Kabelo Ramokhathali, NUMSA regional secretary for Sedibeng.
Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“AMSA should resolve its grievances with workers instead of looking for devious ways to limit workers’ rights. The company must improve working conditions by ending precarious working conditions through permanent contracts, adopting better health and safety standards, and paying living wages.”

AMSA, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, is the largest supplier of flat steel in Sub Saharan Africa. The steel is manufactured from iron ore, coke, and dolomite.