Motor – the ups and downs
For the past few years, Numsa has declared motor a 'special project'. But progress has been slow and some motor members are unhappy with the lack of progress. Jenny Grice spoke to Sam Tsiane, Numsa's motor sector co-ordinator, to ask him to respond to a letter from a 'demoralised motor shop steward' and to talk about the motor sector more generally.
We have received a letter from a 'demoralised motor shop steward' (see box). He is concerned about the slowness around the gazettal of the motor agreement from last year. Can you explain why it took so long?
There was some bickering between the unions themselves. The Motor Industry Staff Association (Misa) and the South African Motor Union (Samu), two largely white unions, did not want to settle because employers would not agree to the agency shop. They also did not want to strike. We had to follow all the processes of going through three meetings at the bargaining council to try and get agreement. Misa and Samu refused to sign the agreement. Numsa signed and the employers signed. Thereafter we had to submit the agreement to the Minister of Labour.
The two white unions then wrote to the Minister objecting to the agreement. The Minister had to be careful. He went to get legal advice – if he gazettes the Agreement and extends it to non-parties, what will happen and if he doesn't gazette it, what will happen.
What did the Minister's legal advisers say?
There are two provisions in the Labour Relations Act (LRA). The first says that if the majority union and the majority employer agree, then the agreement can be submitted. And it says that the majority trade union must, after it has been extended, represent the majority of workers in the industry.
However, the second provision says that, if, after the extension, the majority trade union does not represent the majority of workers, then the Minister can use his discretion over whether to gazette and extend the agreement or not. In making his decision, the Minister should consider issues such as whether the extension is in the interests of collective bargaining
In this case, Numsa did not represent the majority of workers in the industry, before and after the extension. Numsa currently represents about 29% of the total motor workforce while with the other unions this increases to 49%.
What the white unions tried to do, was to argue that the Minister could not extend the agreement. They used the first provision. Numsa, however, used the second provision which allows the Minister to exercise his own discretion.
Even despite these long delays over the gazettal of last year's agreement, usually what happens is that the current agreement lapses before the next one has been gazetted. And then workers fail to get wage increases for the months where there was no agreement. How are you going to ensure that this doesn't happen again?
Even if we don't have an agreement in time, we will in our demands make sure that back payment will be included in the agreement.
For example in engineering, the agreement says that it expires on June 30 and runs until July 1 the following year. The implication is that anyone who has not paid the increases, must pay from July 1 – including non-parties to the agreement.
Already we have managed to do this for Chapter 3 workplaces in the industry. Although the agreement was reached in the third week of September, it was effective from the first week of September for all workplaces in that Chapter.
Are employers likely to give in to this demand?
No, we can't give any guarantees. It is a fight that we have to engage employers on. The only guarantee is that if we win the fight, then we will win the issue.
Could the best advice be to recruit non-members into the union?
Yes, that will definitely help because it will push up our numbers and our bargaining strength.
In the engineering, auto and tyre sectors, there are now longer term agreements. Is this another option for motor, especially on wages, to avoid the problems of late gazettal of agreements?
In motor, all issues are negotiated on a long term basis except wages.
The Administrative Agreement lasts for five years. The substantive agreement covering conditions of employment like leave, lunches, overtime etc lasts for 24 months. It is only wages that is renegotiated every year.
Up to now the employers have resisted long term wage agreements, except Chapter 3 employers (component manufacturers).
What issues will be negotiated this year?
Just wages. But we want to push that agency shop is also part of the agenda.
One of the outstanding issues is the extension of the agreement to ex-TBVC states and self-governing territories. What is the progress on this?
Motor industry – not productive
What exactly is going on in the motor industry? Settlement was long ago reached but as workers it is difficult to get what we are supposed to get. To my understanding the problem is with regard to the gazettal and implementation. It will be difficult for us to recruit more workers from this sector if this situation continues.
What guarantee can you give to non-members, especially when someone doesn't receive a wage increment within a year and other useful working conditions are turned away?
Somewhere and somehow one can buy the idea of plant level negotiations which is not good enough for us collectively and too dangerous for us members in the sector. I personally propose that the restructuring process should be adopted at the NBC level, otherwise we will continue to lose members.
Numsa as a national union should take a strong position within this sector otherwise history will judge us poorly within our federation.
Demoralised worker leader
Everything has been agreed upon, we have given the bargaining council figures that we have in those areas. The Numsa regional secretaries or regional organisers in affected regions, must now meet with the regional secretaries of Mibco. Then we must make an application, together with Mibco to apply for the extension of scope of the agreement to cover those areas and then to extend the agreement to those areas. I think by July we should have something. But it will depend on our regional secretaries.
Early this year there were three campaigns in motor. One was around Cluster 6 (car dealers like McCarthys) another was the recruitment of non-members and the third was the formation of an umbrella provident fund to bring in all small company funds under one umbrella. What is there to report on this?
Currently it is a challenge to get regions to focus on the motor sector. To be honest a lot of comrades within Numsa are still not taking the sector seriously even though it is the second biggest sector after engineering. Only a few regions are taking the campaigns seriously.
My worry is that we will be facing negotiations again this year with similar weaknesses to the past which is embarrassing.
I hope the coming NBC will examine this weakness and arrive at a resolution which will inspire regions to put more effort into this sector.
In Cluster 6, the plan was to force companies to negotiate increases on actual rates of pay as well as the agency shop. Very little has happened except for one or two locals.
Recruitment has been more successful. Over the last few months of last year and this year more than 500 members have been recruited.
There are concerns from some regions about changes to the agreement last year that relate to working flexibly. Can you take us through these concerns?
I am only aware of one region which I assume did not have the same understanding as the rest of the regions about the process of those negotiations. Nonetheless the matter was clarified at the NEC in March 2003. Anyway we have requested Mibco to consolidate and simplify the agreement. We hope that the simplified version will be ready by May this year.
The flexibility relates relates to individuals. If an individual doesn't want to work like that he doesn't have to. For example, you can work on a holiday and then replace it with another working day so that you can get a long week-end.
Can you be flexible about swapping your holidays but not Sundays?
And say for example, your working days are 5 days. Then the employer says I want to rearrange your working hours to be 5 days from Tuesday to Saturday.
That must be agreed between you and your shop stewards. If you don't agree, he can't touch you on that.
And what about the fact that now Sunday can be classed as a normal working day?
Previously there were some workers that worked Sundays as a normal day – petrol attendants and those working in vulcanising operations and parking. The effect now is that it applies to everyone from salespersons right through to manufacturing but workers must agree this change with management.