Looking back on 2018, the year’s violent strikes, as well as the NUM’s and Numsa’s Eskom strike in August, together with Numsa’s strike in the plastic sector and Amcu’s at Sibanye-Stillwater, all go to show that Nedlac has dragged its heels for far too long to introduce legislative amendments to deal with strikes of such a nature. In each of the above instances, employers had to seek court interdicts given the violence and intimidation that characterised the strikes, while appropriate labour legislation regulating strikes of such a destructive nature should have been in place long ago, following Amcu’s five-month long strike in 2014 after Marikana, as well as Numsa’s month long strike in the metal and engineering industry.
Nedlac now prides itself on strike-related amendments that have been effected to legislation, and they pride themselves on the Minimum Wage Act that has come into force on 1 January 2019. While labour law amendments have come too late, the Minimum Wage Act is premature. The effects of a minimum wage, combined with carbon tax and Eskom’s planned tariff hike that will materialise in 2019, could possibly lead to yet another Presidential Job Summit which would make a naïve attempt to find out why unemployment is on the rise.
Fortunately, 2019 should see fewer major wage strikes given that long-term wage agreements have been reached at, among others, Eskom, in the mining sector, the metal and engineering industry and with public service workers.
However, Eskom could still be a hotspot if the current retrenchment process that involves senior officials spills over into a retrenchment process that affects the lower job categories too. Such a process will come up against major opposition from trade unions, as is the case at the SABC at the moment. The SAA will face the same when it embarks on its retrenchment path. Resistance is to be expected because corruption and mismanagement at top level have compromised job security.
Numsa might well use the 2019 negotiations in the Bargaining Council for the New Tyre Manufacturing Industry and at a company such as Hillside Aluminium to show their steel, especially with the 2019 general election in mind. Numsa is going to participate in the election under the banner of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. Moreover, Numsa is pursuing a clever strategy to slowly but surely see to it that wage agreements in the various sectors where they negotiate all expire at the same time. If employers do not identify this strategy in good time Numsa may well initiate a nationwide strike across various economic sectors as early as 2020.
At Telkom Labour relations can turn out to be interesting because Telkom unions refused to sign a two-year agreement in 2018. In the end, Telkom imposed an agreement unilaterally. Telkom believes a two-year agreement is in place, while the trade unions want to go back to the negotiating table in 2019. This could lead to major conflict.
2019 could also prove to be decisive when it comes to finding out whether business rescue would indeed bring any relief to workers. In this regard we should keep an eye on how things develop in the business rescue processes that are underway at the Gupta Optimum and Koornfontein Coal Mines and at their Shiva Uranium Mine, as well as on the business rescue process at Lily Mine. What is happening at the moment is that the parties involved in those processes have to spend more time and energy on getting rid of highly-paid rescue practitioners than on saving the business.
Moreover, state-owned enterprises such as Denel, Armscor and the ARC, which are on the brink of bankruptcy, are not likely to offer any increases in 2019, which would leave trade unions with no choice but to apply for business rescue at those workplaces too in 2019.
Wage negotiations in the industrial chemicals sector, the fast-moving consumer goods sector and the glass sector are set to commence in 2019 as existing multi-year agreements will expire during the course of the year.
Given the Competition Tribunal’s ruling that Sibanye-Stillwater may only initiate retrenchments six months after its takeover of Lonmin, Amcu (representing 80% of Lonmin’s employees) will do everything in its power to avert retrenchments, a strike thus becoming a strong possibility.
Other substantial retrenchments to be anticipated in mining in 2019 could be at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division and at Impala Platinum, both of which are under pressure to cut staff costs. Moreover, Sasol SA has already announced restructuring. It is believed that Sasol Group Technology wants to reduce its highly skilled workforce by between 40% and 50%.
With the general election creating a climate of uncertainty as well as causing discord between trade unions and trade union federations, 2019 could well be a challenging one on the labour relations front.
Gideon du Plessis is Solidarity’s General Secretary