In a carnival-like atmosphere IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) took to the streets of Johannesburg protesting proposed amendments to the labour laws, which the union says will reverse the hard-won gains on workers’ rights. NUMSA has called for a general strike on April 25 to defend the right to strike.
Wearing red t-shirts, whistling, singing along struggle songs from loud music playing from a truck, and dancing the toyi-toyi dance, thousands of workers marched to the provincial government offices and the Department of Labour. The march took place on March 23 which is also Human Rights Day – a public holiday remembering the resistance against apartheid that led to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 in which 69 people were shot dead by the police for protesting Pass Laws.
NUMSA and a coalition of 20 other organizations, including the South African Federation of Trade Unions to which NUMSA is affiliated, the Casual Workers Advice Office, and the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa say the amendments are “a coordinated attack on workers” which needs a “counter attack”.
If the labour laws amendments are passed the right to strike, to living wages and to collective bargaining will be taken away from workers. Other non-wage rights on housing and land enjoyed by workers which are part of benefits in the sectoral minimum wages set by the minister of labour will be adversely affected. The right to an efficient and fair dispute resolution system will also be negatively affected by the amendments.
The coalition demands that the amendments on strike balloting, picketing rules, longer conciliation and compulsory arbitration be abandoned. The right to strike over unfair dismissals should be restored, and employers must be stopped from using scab labour to break strikes.
The extension of collective bargaining agreements should only happen when the majority of workers in a sector are unionized. Workers should also be involved in decisions on the national minimum wage. Once the minimum wage is agreed upon, labour inspectors must ensure compliance.
NUMSA also condemned the introduction of a national minimum wage of R3500 (US$294). The minimum wage was supposed to become effective on 1 May 1, but the date has been extended.
Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa, says:
Workers’ rights are constitutional rights that cannot be taken away and attempts to do so must be resisted. We rally behind NUMSA in defense of the right to strike. We also support living wages because they are one of the ways that workers and their families can move out of poverty.
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