All the 2,895 dismissed workers of the Toyota factory in South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province have been reinstated after the National Union Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) intervened on behalf of the workers.
The negotiation ended with the company agreeing to reinstate all the workers, with a written warning. The company also agreed to review and reach an agreement on the terms and conditions under which it is obliged to give out bonuses. A strike around this issue had led to the workers being dismissed.
At a meeting in December, the management had praised the employees at this factory for their work and indicated that they would likely receive a quality bonus for it, NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi Majola told Peoples Dispatch. “That’s why our members were so disappointed in January when it became clear that the management had changed its mind.”
The workers who were asking for their bonus were instead asked to do overtime work by the management. Workers were willing, provided the bonus was paid. “When it was clear that our members had reached a deadlock on the issue of quality bonus, NUMSA’s regional leadership tried to intervene”, she said. However, the “management refused to allow us to intervene. They said this was an internal matter and insisted on dealing with it internally.”
Frustrated by the management’s refusal to engage with their union, the workers downed tools on January 22 without going through the arbitration procedures mandated in the labor law in order to have a strike regarded as “protected”. Participants in a protected strike cannot be dismissed by the employer for downing tools.
The management’s refusal to engage with the union did not allow this option to the workers. Soon after the strike began, the company warned the workers in writing that they would be dismissed if they did not return to work.
When the strike action continued undeterred, the management fired 2,895 workers on January 24. The factory remained paralyzed, taking a heavy toll on the production of vehicles including Fortuner SUV, Hino trucks, Quantum bus and Quest car, thousands of which are also exported, largely to Europe but also to other countries in Africa.
Under pressure, the company agreed to negotiate with NUMSA to bring the industrial action to an end. After successful negotiations, the workers returned to work on February 4 after the company agreed to reinstate all those who were dismissed. It was also agreed that the company will not take any further disciplinary actions beyond a written warning.
Further, NUMSA said in a statement, “The Quality Bonus will also be reviewed. We need a set standard which clarifies the exact terms and conditions there are for workers to receive this bonus.”
The same statement also clarified, “We want to make it clear that we do not support the fact that our members went on an unprotected strike because they risk being dismissed, which is exactly what happened in this case. The law is not on the side of the working class when it comes to strike action and it is really important that members understand this. This government has done everything possible to erode the right to strike. It has introduced changes to the labor law to force workers to ballot before embarking on a strike and it has introduced a poverty National Minimum Wage of R20 (USD 1.35) per hour which undermines centralized bargaining.”