Resisting the peeling of the onion

The Free Market Foundation’s court challenge in the High Court to prevent bargaining councils extending agreements to non-parties is just one of many legal attacks on centralised bargaining, labour lawyer Shamima Gabie told NBC delegates earlier this year.

She said the foundation believes that if minimum conditions and wages are dropped and determined by the market, this will create jobs.

Gabie warned delegates that attacking bargaining councils was like taking off the outside skin of the onion. If employers win this round, they will go for sectoral determinations that set minimum wages in sectors such as domestic work and security. If they succeed in pulling this one off, they will attack the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which would completely expose workers to the whims of employers.

Similar “peelings” are taking place in the textile bargaining council and in motor and engineering bargaining councils, where Numsa sits.

In the motor bargaining council, the attack centres on the current agreement to reduce the use of labour brokers to 35% of the workforce in forecourts. Capes, an organization representing labour brokers is leading the charge.

Neasa, an employer body that represents mostly small employers, is leading the assault on six fronts against the engineering bargaining council. The bargaining council has set aside R6-million to defend itself from Neasa. Already it has doled out R2-million to lawyers to protect itself.

Textile union Sactwu is refusing to bow down to incessant attacks by textile employers. With the union enjoying 85% union membership of the sector, employers are hard-pressed to find support from their workers. In Newcastle, where the assault is focused, union density is 91%.

In the engineering industry, “employers are our enemies”, Vusi Mabho of Numsa’s engineering sector told the meeting, “but in this situation where everything is set to collapse, we have identified the employers (who fall under Seifsa) as our friends.”

But speakers and delegates were quick to point out that litigation and relying on our enemies as newfound friends could not win the battles.

Instead, they urged:

• More recruitment, mobilisation and organisation, especially in Neasa and other targeted companies;

• workshops for our bargaining representatives on the bargaining council constitutions; and

• lunch-time pickets and demonstrations at court hearings and targeted companies.

Everyone knows that when you peel an onion, tears follow. If we allow the onion to be peeled, workers will shed the tears. If we resist and prevent the onion from being peeled, we will remain intact. The challenge is on!

How representative are we in motor and engineering?

Sector Number of workers Number in trade unions Percentage organised
Engineering 307 488 155 238



Motor 295 368 99011 34%