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August 1, 2014

SOUTH AFRICA: Ministry defends employers’ “right to strike”

South Africa's Labour Ministry says business owners also have the right to strike as the country reels under yet another manufacturing setback.

South Africa’s Labour Ministry says business owners also have the right to strike as the country reels under yet another manufacturing setback.

This week saw the tentative end to South Africa’s massive metalworking strike that crippled or severely slowed several automakers as component suppliers were unable to produce vital parts.

A deal was finally thrashed out between the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), agreeing a 10% salary hike each year from now to 2016, but the National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA), is flatly rejecting it, insisting it can only afford 8%.

NEASA has requested its 3,000 members lock out those formerly on strike as the settlement dispute rages and although there are no precise figures as yet, the association is thought to have between 65,000 and 80,000 employees working for its members.

“Employers have got the right to go on strike – it is the employers who went out on strike,”  South Africa Department of Labour acting deputy director general labour policy, Thembinkosi Mkalipi, who led the strike negotiations, told just-auto from Pretoria.

“It is unusual – it is not normal employers go on [strike] – but this is South Africa – there you are.”

The issue has now gone to the Labour Minister, Mildred Oliphant, who will decide whether or not to make the deal binding, in which case, NEASA says it will take the matter to Court.

NEASA maintains the lock-out is legal and the right to it enjoys the same constitutional protection as the ability to strike. 

The employer body is also claiming NUMSA and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) are engaged in ‘threats’ following the lock-out, although these have not been verified.

NUMSA says it will hold pickets and demonstrations in companies, which have taken what it describes as “an illegal, racist and provocative decision to lock-out workers,” in the Western Cape.

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