Shopfloor Action: Numsa showdown with Continental

Continental in Port Elizabeth is trying to lower costs by attacking workers’ benefits and conditions. This shows how far multinational companies are prepared to go to lower costs internationally with total disregard to the protection and safeguarding of existing employment, benefits and the welfare of the community.

When workers and their unions resist these attacks, the headquarters of these companies respond by cutting back on vehicle models or products we are supposed to manufacture, by reducing budgets and by refusing to allow us to produce new products.

Continental made the following proposal to Numsa:

Increase working days from 277 per year to 304 to the same level with other plants internationally. It meant workers had to work 7 days a week instead of 5.
pay Saturday and Sunday at normal rates instead of one third for Saturday and double pay for Sunday as per the national agreement.

The push to lower costs was influenced by demands from its headquarters to move production to low-cost production areas and increase the number of working days without increasing labour costs on a world-wide basis.

The union and workers responded by agreeing to extend working days to 7 per week but demanded that the company must pay overtime rates for Saturday and Sunday as per the agreement. The company headquarters retaliated by cutting back orders on tyres for the South African plant by 850 000 for this year.

South African management then retaliated by cutting working hours from 37 to 30 per week citing low orders and ample stock in their warehouses. It also issued notices of retrenchment to certain workers.

Workers in their frustration staged a sit-in on July 1 and a number of them are being disciplined.

International supportMeanwhile, ICEM, the international trade union for chemical and energy workers, has pledged solidarity with Continental workers and is organising a meeting between shopstewards in South Africa and the Works’ Council in Germany from July 25 to 29. They will also meet the Group Human Resources Director then.

The struggle in Continental is a similar struggle to those faced in other transnational companies in South Africa . We are forced to agree to work practices that ultimately undermine our agreements, conditions of employment, health and safety and exempt the company from certain labour laws.

South Africa alone will not win this struggle against multinational companies as they black-mail us into submission by moving production to countries where their practices are not challenged.

Numsa is taking up the matter with the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) to develop a global response because the present divided responses by unions weaken our bargaining power. We are considering the following demands to deal with the situation:

That these companies should align their investment and other decisions to protect and nurture existing employment and improve workers’ benefits. Decisions of the companies should not jeopardise existing employment and its viability.
that each multinational company must agree to negotiate an International Framework Agreement to protect workers’ rights in subsidiaries, suppliers, customers, sub-contractors and outsourced companies, etc.
that companies must agree that workers have the right to embark on sympathy strikes in the same company at international level especially if workers are on legal or authorised strikes.

Hlokoza Motau and Continental shop stewards