Not so easy to fall under one roof!

NBC after NBC over the last few years has called for the 'House Agreements to be brought back to the Engineering Main Agreement' but Osborn Galeni, basic metals sector co-ordinator, believes the issue is not so simple.

"Samancor (now Billiton ), Galeni explains, "used to negotiate together with all Ferrochrome companies, Assmang and Ferralloys and so on. But then Samancor decided that the joint forum wasn't working. They convinced the shop stewards of this so the whole forum was disintegrated so each company now has separate negotiations. And now Samancor are not happy to go back to any central forum."

While Iscor has agreed, it says it will only go back if other companies go.

The big aluminium smelter, Alusaf say that their pay structure is different – "they are not happy to go anywhere," says Galeni.

And Huletts Aluminium, which for years has held joint negotiations for their three plants in Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Olifantsfontein, now wants to separate the negotiations because they say each plant produces different commodities.

And while these are the views of the companies, Galeni believes there could be just as much resistance from shop stewards.

"There are 20 shop stewards at Iscor that come to company negotiations. They come together, they like participating, they don't totally support what is happening at Nampak where the company has been incorporated into the Main Agreement. They look at their wages and benefits and feel that their package is better."

And if Iscor were to move into the Main Agreement, not one of the Iscor shop stewards would attend central negotiations. They could see their power and status diminished.

So there is a debate over how to incorporate House Agreements into the Main Agreement. Some sector co-ordinators argue for the 'big-bang' approach as Numsa did with the auto companies in 1984. Here they called a meeting of all the auto companies and told them that from that date all bargaining would take place in that forum, there would be no more plant negotiations.

But Galeni is worried by this approach – "I can't go to Meyerton if Alusaf shop stewards are going to come and say 'no'. Employers will say they don't want to go unless we convince members on the ground. I think that if we go now we will lose the battle and that will set us back for at least 5 to 10 years."

Instead Galeni favours a much slower process as they did with the integration of the defence industry into the heavy engineering schedule of the Main Agreement.

"We dealt with the process slowly, we managed to allay the fears of the shop stewards and we also had to convince the white unions as well. These are unions that are not party to the Main Agreement and were feeling threatened."

"One of the arguments we used with workers and the other white trade unions to push them into the main agreement was that once they are part of it, they can call inspectors from the bargaining council to come and check whether the agreement is being implemented. They didn't have this monitoring process before.

Once we had got both of them on board then we had a meeting with management to move them in to the agreement."

While Galeni says defence workers are happy at the moment because shop stewards are still meeting to negotiate grading and restructuring issues, he worries that once the restructuring process is over "we may find difficulties".


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