SAA and Eskom will be the focal points of labour relations during the first half of the year. Eskom’s restructuring plan should now begin to give greater clarity on the much talked about unbundling process. The mineworkers’ union, the NUM, and the metal workers’ union, Numsa, in particular will be fiercely opposing any form of privatisation or staff reduction. André de Ruyter, Eskom’s new CEO, will soon realise that Eskom’s operational and labour relations challenges are closely linked.
Numsa is expected also to oppose any form of privatisation at the SAA, and the main challenge for all the unions involved will be to convince the business rescue practitioners rather to reduce staff at top management level and provide job security to the employees at lower post levels. This will be a challenge to the business rescue practitioners, because sustainability indeed means getting rid of all redundant posts in order to bring about job security in the long run.
As far as other substantive retrenchments are concerned, ArcelorMittal South Africa (Amsa) will be keeping employees in suspense by continuing the retrenchment processes that started in 2019. The closing down of Saldanha Steel should be finalised by February, with 565 permanent employees and 1 500 contractors being affected. A retrenchment notice is also expected to be issued at Amsa’s Newcastle plant early in the year, following the retrenchment processes recently completed at the company’s Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging plants.
Struggling state entities such as PetroSA, Prasa and Transnet may also start retrenchment processes in 2020, and in addition there are private sector companies such as Sasol and Tiger Brands as well as a considerable number of marginal mines where further retrenchment processes will not come as a surprise.
In view of the state of the South African economy and the Eskom factor, salary increases during 2020 should be inflation-linked, making it difficult for unions to down-manage their members’ expectations. The minister of public service and administration, however, is going to have an even tougher task in down-managing the salary expectations of public servants and public service unions in 2020.
However, the pressure this year is going to be firmly on the aviation industry, with the SAA being in business rescue and salary negotiations kicking off soon at the Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS), SAA Technical and FlySafair, while negotiations at Comair will get under way in September.
In February, negotiations will also begin at the hospital group Netcare, and this will give an indication of whether the group is beginning to steel and position itself for the impact of the National Health Insurance (NHI). Traditional hospitals are already struggling because of competition by day hospitals.
Salary negotiations at the struggling Denel will also commence in a month’s time and promise to be a tough process with the threat of retrenchments because of problems being experienced with exporting arms to especially Middle East countries.
At Telkom, salary negotiations are expected to begin in March. During the negotiations two years ago, the two telecommunication unions, CWU and SACU, had their backs against the wall and they refused to sign the unfavourable salary agreement which subsequently was implemented unilaterally by Telkom. These two unions surely would like to turn the tables this time.
The negotiations to be conducted under the banner of the struggling Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) from April are going to be critical to the sustainability of the steel industry. Proverbially speaking, salary negotiations will be conducted on the deck of the Titanic, and the unions and employees concerned should perhaps consider putting this year’s negotiations on ice and extending the current agreement by a year so as to create space for the sector to stabilise.
In the mining sector, negotiations will also be conducted at Sasol’s coal mines as from April. The negotiations are sure to be challenging because of the company’s financial position and competing unions such as Solidarity, the mineworkers’ unions Amcu and NUM and the chemical sector unions Sacwu and Ceppwawu who also will be involved in the negotiations. Also in the mining sector, Kumba Iron Ore, Assmang and South 32 Hotazel Manganese in the Northern Cape will be conducting negotiations as from May. These mining companies will have to face NUM, Solidarity and Amcu (Kumba only).
It also is going to be the first year where salary negotiations with the major coal companies like Anglo American Coal, Glencore and Exxaro Coal will take place on mine level from June, after all coal companies opted to withdraw from centralised collective bargaining that used to take place under the auspices of the Minerals Council (previously Chamber of Mines).
Finally, the effect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will increasingly be experienced in 2020 by companies in the manufacturing and mining sectors in particular, where workplaces will be automated on an ongoing basis. Advice to unions is to make “skills development” the core of their salary negotiations as from this year in order to enhance job security for their members.
Gideon du Plessis is General Secretary of Solidarity.