Intensifying strikes and a mix of violence—ArcelorMittal and NUMSA update

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According to the latest update, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) intends to intensify protest action at ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) branches around SA. 

This comes after the Labour Court dismissed AMSA’s interdict application to bring strike action to a halt.

Protest action at AMSA began on 11 May 2022, with NUMSA stating that the strike action came after a deadlock in the wage negotiations between the steel giant and its employees. 

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However, hours after the protest action began, the Labour Court granted an interim interdict to AMSA, stating that AMSA employees working at the blast furnaces, coke batteries and steel making in Vanderbijlpark and Newcastle were not permitted to embark on or continue with a strike. This was pending the labour court granting judgement.

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With the interdict now being dismissed, NUMSA stated, “AMSA made the application on the basis that it had referred two disputes with the Essential Services Committee (ESC). One of the disputes was for the ESC to investigate whether the operation of coke batteries and blast furnaces used in the production of steel, should be designated an essential service.”

The second dispute, according to the union, was for certain aspects of the steel production to be designated as a maintenance service (maintenance service application).

Furthermore, according to NUMSA, if AMSA succeeded with these applications, it would mean that workers in these divisions of AMSA would be blocked from participating in any legal strike action in the future.

“We argued in court that there is a pending investigation on this matter, and it is well-established that a court will not interdict a strike based on a pending ESC investigation. AMSA was being opportunistic.”

The trade union adds that the goal of the interim interdict was simply to undermine the right to strike and, NUMSA viewed it as an attempt to divide workers.

Nevertheless, NUMSA opposed the application on the grounds that the Labour Court committee had not yet made a ruling on the matter. As a result, NUMSA said that the court should not even consider this as grounds to interdict the strike, because the right to strike is a sacred constitutional right, which should not be tampered with.

NUMSA also argued that if AMSA was s granted an interdict purely on the fact that it referred a case to the ESC concerning a maintenance services dispute, the ruling would create a bad precedence because then any other employer could simply draft an application to the ESC to frustrate the constitutional right to strike.

“The right to strike can only be limited when the ESC has already made a determination that the whole or part of the service provided by an employer, is in fact a maintenance service. On the 11th May, Justice Mahosi of the Labour court interdicted the strike temporarily but only for workers in the blast furnaces, coke batteries and the steel plant, until a final judgment was made,” NUMSA said.

Following this, a final decision was handed down. It confirmed that all employees, without exception, have the right to strike.

Feeling vindicated, NUMSA said it would now be intensifying the strike at all AMSA plants nationally. The union is also expected to hand a memorandum of demand at the AMSA Vanderbijlpark Works on Tuesday, 24 May 2022.

However, things are not as clear-cut as the trade union makes it out to be, following AMSA speaking out on the recent developments.

Firstly, in regards to NUMSA’s intentions to march to AMSA’s Vanderbijlpark Works to hand over its memorandum, AMSA states it did not permit any such march to take place.

The steel giant further noted this was because the strike action initiated by NUMSA has been marred by numerous acts of violence and intimidation of non-striking employees, despite the strike and picketing rules agreed between the company and the union.

AMSA’s Group Manager: Stakeholder Management & Communications, Tami Didiza added, “The company has indicated its concerns to NUMSA regarding the breach of these rules, as well as the unlawful conduct of its members but, to date, there have been no real or tangible efforts by the union to stop these acts.”

Didiza highlighted that these unlawful acts include the shooting of an employee, who is currently recovering in hospital, and multiple cases of assault or attempted assault of non-striking employees. There have also been cases of intimidation of employees and their families in the workplace, en route to work and at their homes. Multiple instances of stoning and attempted damage to employees’ and contractors’ vehicles, and road blockades and other disruptions intended to prevent access to company premises.

According to Didiza, cases have been opened with the SAPS for investigation of these incidents and arrests have already been made in some cases.

ArcelorMittal South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer, Kobus Verster added, “Given that NUMSA has thus far not made any reasonable effort to address the unlawful and disruptive conduct of its members and has not demonstrated that it is willing or able to do so, we do not have any confidence that the union will be inclined to or capable of ensuring that the process to hand over a memorandum at our offices will be carried out peacefully.”

With this in mind, he stated that to ensure the safety of our employees and the security of our business premises, “we, therefore, did not permit the handover.”

Moreover, the steel giant noted that it did offer to receive the memorandum in writing by email or fax.

“The company is providing the necessary support to the employees and their families affected by these illegal acts and is taking determined steps to ensure the safety of all employees who are coming to work.”

This included an application for an urgent interdict prohibiting these acts of violence and intimidation, which was granted by the Labour Court on Friday, 20 May 2022.

 Among other things, this interdict:

  • Prohibits the respondents from committing, enticing or encouraging all forms of acts of misconduct in support of their strike action
  • Requires the respondents to comply with the picketing rules
  • Requires the respondents to provide the court, within 48 hours and in writing, a plan of action to ensure compliance with picketing rules and to ensure that non-striking employees will not be attacked or intimidated
  • Orders the respondents to issue a written statement to its members condemning the violence and intimidation.

Verster stresses, “The company respects the rights of employees to embark on industrial action, but this must be in compliance with the law and having regard for the rights of others. It is extremely disappointing that employees who have been participating in the strike do not have any regard for the law.” 

Additionally, when looking at the Labour Court’s interim interdict which prohibited employees working at the blast furnaces, coke batteries and steelmaking in Vanderbijlpark and Newcastle from embarking on strike action, the steel giant highlighted that the interdict was initially based on the argument that these areas of operation were considered essential services, and was pending final judgment.

“However, on 19 May 2022, the Labour Court provided judgement in this matter and did not grant the final interdict. Among other reasons, this was because the Labour Court did not want to pre-empt the decision of the Essential Services Committee on this matter and the company will now pursue this further with the Essential Services Committee,” pointed out Didiza.

In the spirit of conciliation, and based on ongoing discussions with NUMSA and Solidarity, AMSA said it has tabled two improved, alternative final offers, subject to certain conditions, for union consideration on Friday, 20 May 2022:
  • A 6% increase on all remuneration elements, including allowances, standby and medical aid, plus a R5 000 once off ex-gratia payment.
  • A 6.5% increase on all remuneration elements, including allowances, standby and medical aid, without any cash payment.

Unfortunately, both NUMSA and Solidarity have indicated they would not move from their previously held demands of a 7% increase with a R5 000 once-off cash payment.

Verster concluded by saying, “We believe the offers we have tabled in an effort to put an end to the wage dispute are fair and more than competitive when compared to recent agreements in similar sectors. The current strike action is unfortunate and not in the best interest of any stakeholders or the business.”

What are your thoughts on the above-mentioned? Share your views in the comment section below.

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One thought on “Intensifying strikes and a mix of violence—ArcelorMittal and NUMSA update

  1. Every year workers loose, last year no increases were given, with the prices of fuel and food going up, think it’s only fair fir the 7%….

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