How the economic meltdown affects individuals

How the economic meltdown is affecting individuals

I am not able to sleep at night for fear of what tomorrow will bring – Simon Selokoma

Rudi DicksSimon Selokoma, a 42 year old Numsa shop-steward works at the Ford Motor Company in Port Elizabeth. He has worked at the company for the past 20 years. Until 5 months ago he felt he was in a very secure job.

Today this has all changed.In November 2008, the Port Elizabeth plant was producing 900 engines a day but due to the global economic slowdown; production fell to 400 engines a day. The drop in demand for engines affected the company with talks inevitably leading to retrenchments.

Ford had initially planned on retrenching 220 workers in the Port Elizabeth plant but with the intervention of Numsa they forced the company to reduce the number of retrenchments to 173.

Voluntary severance packages were offered to the employees but workers refused to take the offer with many knowing they will not find alternative employment easily. Ford eventually retrenched workers.

This meant that those workers who did not take voluntary severance packages lost a lot of money because the other benefits that were initially there, were no longer offered.“Numsa has been fully supportive.

They have and are still engaging in different meetings with different stakeholders who can help save the workers' jobs.”The company was asked to provide financial counseling and to give their employees enough notice before retrenching. Selokoma felt this did not take place.

Workers were told during December shutdown that they would not be coming back to work the following year. “We lodged a dispute with the CCMA to try and force Ford to find alternatives such as compensation or skills training for workers.

We wanted workers to get sufficient skills to find employment elsewhere other than in the motor industry.” “I have lost so much weight and have sleepless nights.

This is taking its toll psychologically and emotionally as my colleagues and friends lose their jobs.”“How can you sleep peacefully when your colleagues are losing their livelihoods and have their lives and plans disrupted?”“Some of my colleagues were getting married in December and were retrenched at the end of November.

Some have had to relocate due to not being able to make their mortgage repayments and some have had to totally adjust their lifestyles and it is not easy to do that.”

These retrenchments have meant that community projects have come to an end as the company can no longer afford to sponsor projects. For example, at the Ford plant in Pretoria, informal traders from surrounding Mamelodi Township made their living by selling food and other goods at the company gates.

With fewer employees this means fewer customers for many traders. The HIV/AIDS project at the company will have to come to an end due to lack of funding. In the Port Elizabeth plant there was a soup kitchen that was sponsored by Ford for destitute people in poor communities.

Ford donated samp and beans which was cooked on the company premises and then driven out to the kitchens. Retrenchments at the company also meant that those working on soup kitchens are no longer supported and have lost their livelihood too.

Retrenched workers have been affected in different ways, for example, some of their children who were recipients of the Numsa bursary scheme can no longer qualify since their parents are no longer Numsa members. “Kids will now lose out on good schooling and education opportunities supported through the bursary scheme.”

There are some workers who support more than 10 people on their salaries directly and indirectly and this has left them worrying how they will continue supporting their family.

There have even been talks of workers committing suicide because they are not able to cope with the loss of their jobs. “It is a chaotic and painful time. It is critical that government stands up and does something about the situation facing workers.

When their severance pay runs out there might be a higher rise in crime as people try to find means to put food on the table.”While Selokoma may still have his job security due to an agreement signed between the shop-stewards and the company in 1994, allowing shopstewards to be the last employees to be retrenched, the uncertainty continues to hang in the air.

There are 7 people who directly depend on Simon’s income. “I am not able to sleep at night for fear of what tomorrow will bring.”

I will have to learn how to stretch every rand – Moeder Molelekwa

Rudi DicksUntil November 2008, when she became one of the 5 017 workers retrenched that month, Moeder Mololekwa was employed as a Commex Operator at Pasdec Automotive Technologies (PAT) in Brits. She lives in a squatter camp, sharing a shack with her two children and partner, who works as a contractor in Brits.

Her troubles are directly linked to the economic crisis that has impacted on the automotive industry. PAT experienced a sharp decline in orders, resulting in a cut back in production.

Initially, the idea of retrenchments was put forward by the employer. The union argued that retrenchments were not acceptable and that alternatives should be explored.

As a result, the employer and workers agreed to shorten the number of days and hours worked per week. At the peak of this alternative arrangement, Molelekwa went to work for only 2 days per week.

With the economy not improving and orders remaining low as the crisis sharpened, the company and the workers could no longer manage short time. With the pressure of retrenchments the union and the bosses agreed on using LIFO (last in first out) principle.

Unfortunately for Molelekwa, despite her being a shopsteward, she was one of the newer employees at the company and was retrenched. It has been four months since she stopped working and she is yet to find another job.

She has no other source of income besides the money she gets from her settlement; and her last payment is due in May 2009. Even though her partner works at a construction site and contributes to supporting the family, Molelekwa feels that his income will not be enough to meet their basic monthly needs.

For her, this situation is exacerbated by the servicing of her debts, which will only become worse when she no longer has any income. “I will have to learn how to stretch every rand.”

Besides the obvious adverse effect on retrenched workers, the spill-over effect on other sectors such as the taxi industry will be harsh. Living in an informal settlement meant a new taxi route had to be established and arranged with taxi owners.

This benefited the taxi industry that would transport many workers to PAT and sometimes special arrangements for shift workers. With many residents no longer employed and as prospects of finding work diminish, taxi drivers who transported people like Molelekwa will have to do with less income and fewer commuters.

Many of her colleagues elsewhere in the automotive industry echo her sentiment. She feels that the government should provide bail-outs for struggling companies and more importantly, the unions must work together with business to lobby government to limit the import of cheap cars from India and China. “

The unions should make government buy locally produced cars.”“In the next few weeks and months things are going to get very bad not only for my family but for many other people in our community. Government must intervene to ensure things don’t get worse.â€


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