Desperate workers sneak in

28 July 2014 - 02:01
By TJ Strydom
RED TIDE: Numsa members march in Port Elizabeth to demand a 12% wage increase in the engineering and related industries
Image: FREDLIN ADRIAAN RED TIDE: Numsa members march in Port Elizabeth to demand a 12% wage increase in the engineering and related industries

There is likely to be more intimidation and destruction this week as the strike by workers in the metals and engineering sector continues.

Companies are losing R300-million a day, according to Henk Langenhoven, senior economist at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of S A .

Many employers say they will have to retrench workers to compensate for the losses they have suffered this month and to enable them to pay the imminent wages increases.

There are between 10000 and 12000 businesses in metals and engineering, most of them operating on very thin to non-existent profit margins, Langenhoven said.

Employers and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, which represents more than 200000 workers in the sector, are still at odds.

Numsa is willing to accept the latest offer of a wages increase of 10% for each of the next three years. But the federation, which represents most of the employers, wants an agreement that would prevent unions from making further demands at company level.

Langenhoven said the industry, which represents between 5% and 6% of the economy, was being held to ransom.

Workers desperate to earn a living sneak into factories and work from 3am to 11am to avoid the mobs that would rough them up if they were caught.

An employer of more than 50, none of whom belongs to a trade union said: "We pick the guys up in town somewhere. They lie flat under a cover on the back of a bakkie."

Steve Strydom, who manages a company that manufactures accessories for roofing, has deployed around-the-clock security.

"I've been in this game a long time. This strike has a different character. It is the worst ever."

Solidarity's g eneral s ecretary, Gideon du Plessis, said it could take two to three months to get back to full production because many of the returning workers would face disciplinary hearings for vandalism during the strike.

"The day a deal is signed it won't be back to normal, there will still be a lot of tension as some of the victims and perpetrators of intimidation slot in next to each other on the factory floor," Du Plessis said.

"How do you repair relationships after this sort of thing?"