Putting ‘auto’ back into the union

With a background of ten years as a worker and shop steward in Ford, Pretoria and later an organiser of auto companies in the Pretoria area, Herman Ntlatleng is well qualified to take over the reins of national auto co-ordinator from Petrus Nxumalo.

Sidima Nolutshungu spoke to him about the challenges and his plans.

What are the challenges currently facing auto workers:

Globalisation and within that there are the issues of flexibility and competitiveness. Both the workers and the leadership are battling to grapple with these new concepts.

There's a growing resistance from the workers to these things. We will have to deal with this. We have to look at alternatives to these challenges, especially in the auto multinational companies, more so the German ones. 

As a co-ordinator what are your challenges?

To integrate the auto companies into the national union. There is a growing notion that says the auto companies are an 'elite' of a kind. We must deal with this.

In my view we can't afford again a view that says these companies are parallel structures to the national union.

Secondly, the issue of reaching and meeting our demand of having one bargaining council for all the industries and sectors organized by Numsa.

And thirdly, the issue of the shop stewards' career path.

How do you plan to deal with the mega bargaining council issue given the fact that the employers have already responded negatively to this demand?

They haven't responded entirely negatively. They have agreed in principle to a merger of tyre, components, vehicle body builders etc.

We need to decide now who will benefit from this merger? If we were to take out components, vehicle body builders from Mibco, what would be left? What effect would it have on Mibco? If we do decide to go ahead, what is our next step? 

And what about shop stewards' career path?

Shop stewards argue that from the moment they are elected, they lose most of their training time that could have upgraded them to higher levels.

The late general secretary Mbuyiselo Ngwenda argued that if the union allows shop stewards to be upgraded because of their position, it will create competition amongst the workers and their leaders.

This could see a battle over the position of shop steward and result in workers being removed on the basis that in order to progress up the corporate ladder, you must be a shop steward.

For me I don't think this is still the issue. What I think should be done is to continue to open this debate amongst the leadership and with the workers.

Already Toyota shop stewards attend training and for that they receive an allowance and in Ford as well there is an arrangement for shop stewards to be graded. 

What are other problems with the current agreement?

Employers still refuse to benchmark all the rates on the average actual artisan rate. They continue to insist that they benchmark on the minimum artisan rate. We have been demanding and losing this demand for years now.

We need to ask ourselves if there is any other way of achieving what we want – to raise the wages of all workers – in another way?

Another serious problem is this – on each skill level, a person earning at the maximum of that level, earns more than the person earning on the minimum on the level above. So for example you have the following situation:

Skill level Entry rate Qualifying rate 1 19.27 21.47 2 21.40 23.86 3 23.79 26.51 4 26.42 29.48 5 28.80 32.73

We have tried to close this gap but employers say it will "cost too much money". We need to think of other creative ways of closing the gap for the majority of our members. 

What are your immediate plans?

My plans include visiting plants to talk about the recently signed agreement with the shop stewards and their constituencies, dealing with their plants' challenges and to talk to the leadership about their relationships with the structures of the organisation at all levels.


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