Workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) at industrial manufacturer Macsteel embarked on a strike action on May 28, Thursday, against the company management’s unilateral decision of cutting workers’ salaries by 20%.
Described on its website as “Africa’s leading steel supplier”, Macsteel produces a variety of steel and aluminium products for use in the automotive, construction, agriculture, gas and petrochemicals industry, among others.
Businesses expected to be hit by the strike action by NUMSA include Macsteel Coil Processing, Exports, Fluid Control, Roofing, Special Steels, Trading, Tube and Pipe and Macsteel VRN.
NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim, while referring to the pay cuts, said that the management is “hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification for this assault on workers and their families.”
NUMSA further alleged that Macsteel has not applied for the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (TERS) announced by the South African government to help distressed companies pay their workers’ wages during the COVID-19 emergency.
TERS is funded through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) which has been accumulated over the years from the mandatory contributions made by employees and employers of the companies registered with it. Any company which has made this contribution regularly is eligible to apply for financial assistance under TERS.
Meanwhile, Macsteel has claimed that the NUMSA strike is unprotected and the workers can be suspended by the company for the industrial action. The “management has applied for an urgent interdict in an attempt to block the strike,” Irvin said.
He clarified that the union has “followed all necessary processes” required to embark on a protected strike, adding, “we filed a dispute, wrote a letter to the Company regarding the dispute and notice to strike, and called for a meeting to resolve the dispute.”
Criticizing the management’s move, Irvin said “They have the audacity to plead poverty, but they have money to waste going to court, instead of dealing with legitimate issues our members are raising, and engaging with us meaningfully.” He added, “We reject their attempts to blackmail workers into accepting reduced wages.”
“We call on Mike Benfield, the Group CEO to engage us and withdraw his unilateralism to cut workers’ salaries. This is not his money, it is workers’ money and he must pay back the money,” Irvin asserted.
In a statement responding to this story, Macsteel said that the process it followed in “implementing the 20% salary reduction has been transparent.” The company said that it had applied for the COVID-19 UIF TERS and that the staff would be paid the UIF support amount. “We expect that this will compensate the majority of staff fully for the 20% reduction,” the company added.
The story has been updated to include Macsteel’s response.