Strike action expected at ArcelorMittal Newcastle, Vanderbijlpark, Pretoria

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Following recent reports, protest action is expected at ArcelorMittal South Africa‘s Vanderbijlpark, Pretoria and Newcastle branches’ main gates on Wednesday, 11 May 2022.

This comes after the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) served ArcelorMittal’s management with a 48-hour notice to strike.

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“We have been engaging in wage talks under the auspices of the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) since March and we have deadlocked with the employer,” said Kabelo Ramokhathali, NUMSA Sedibeng Regional Secretary, in a statement.

The union has been unable to unlock the deadlock, even though they allegedly engaged in discussions on 5 May 2022, under the auspices of the MEIBC’s Centre for Dispute Resolution (CDR).

ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) is Africa’s largest steel producer, supplying over 60% of the steel used in South Africa. 

Nevertheless, according to NUMSA, the heart of the dispute stems from the refusal of the bosses to make a meaningful offer to settle this round of negotiations.

NUMSA’s core demands are as follows:

  • 10% wage increase across the board
  • Housing allowance
  • 80% medical aid contribution from the employer
  • Scrapping of Labour Brokers and insourcing of temporary employees.

“The bosses have tabled a final offer of only 5% across the board. They are also offering workers 2% of their salaries in cash as a monthly amount. We reject this proposal. What is a 5% increase for the lowest paid worker who earns approximately R7000? It is not much at all. At the same time, the 2% cash payout is not an across the board increase. It will not result in increases in pension cover,” states NUMSA.

The union further adds that workers at AMSA have not had meaningful increases in two years. For 2020 and 2021 workers were given a 2% increase and this was imposed on them in 2021.

“AMSA are claiming in their propaganda that they have the best pay scales in the sector. This is simply not true! Workers at AMSA are exploited and paid very low salaries, considering the size of the organization. Our members are struggling to make ends meet, whilst the greedy bosses rake in obscene profits,” the union emphasises.

AMSA confirmed that NUMSA has issued the company with a strike notice following a breakdown in the 2022 annual wage negotiations.

AMSA’s Chief Executive Officer, Kobus Verster stated, “The timing of the strike notice suggests that the company’s revised offer has not been shared with NUMSA members by the union, which is disappointing. We believe the company’s offer is fair and takes into account both the current economic conditions and the future sustainability of the business.”

Moreover, AMSA added that in the most recent engagement which took place on Thursday, 5 May 2022, and which was conciliated by the Centre for Dispute Resolution, the company tabled a significantly improved final offer of 7%, comprising of a 5% increase across the board on all remuneration elements as well as a 2% cash equivalent based on all remuneration elements to be paid monthly.

In a statement, the steel giant said, “The offer is higher than what has been implemented in the steel sector (5.5% average) and elsewhere in the recent past, which is indicative of the substantially higher salary scales at ArcelorMittal South Africa compared to the rest of the industry and other sectors. NUMSA disputes this fact but has to date not presented any factual evidence to the contrary.”

Adding to this, AMSA claimed that in the union’s strike notice, NUMSA had reverted to its original 15% increase demand, having tabled a revised 10% increase demand at last week’s conciliated engagement.

The steel giant further said that in the statement issued by the union, NUMSA had disingenuously suggested that ArcelorMittal South Africa employees are earning R7 000 per month when the reality is:

  • The current average total remuneration of the lowest grade of employees at ArcelorMittal South Africa is R21 423 per month excluding overtime.
  • The offer tabled by the company will result in an average positive adjustment of R2 246 per month for bargaining unit employees.

Verster adds, “The company is concerned that unsustainable increases in base pay will lead to cost pressures which will weaken our competitiveness. Our industry remains very cost sensitive, challenging and volatile. To survive and be sustainable, we need to ensure that our cost base remains competitive so that we can manage through the downturns.”

With the strike action imminent, Verster stressed that communication channels between the parties remain open in the interest of speedily reaching an agreement in the negotiation process.

“We encourage all parties to behave responsibly in finding agreement so that the business can move forward,” concluded Verster. 

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