My name is Mandilakhe Vanqa born & breed from Eastern Cape in a small town called Lady Frede but grew up at Mthatha but currently based at Mpumalanga Emalahleni( Witbank).I would to some of my experience and some of challenges as a Shopsteward during my term of office.
I am exploited by the company by the name of Mabhele & Associates a contractor operating at Kusile Power Station Project since from April 2018. I am employed as a Cable Puller since from my previous employer of which Mabhele took over according to Section 197 Of Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995. I was previledgely elected as Shopsteward in the same year and re-elected in 2020 with the fresh mandate according to National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa(NUMSA) constitution.
Below are few challenges I have been confronted of during my period of office as a Shopsteward are as follows:
- The difficult of persuading workers to join the trade union during recruitment drive because workers believe that joining the trade union will ultimately lead to them being dismissed by the employer for associating themselves with the union, of whichit is a fallacy because CHAPTER 2 of Labour Relations Act clearly stipulate that workers have freedom of association and trade unions does not necessarily impede the employer from doing its own business.
- One of the major challenges confronting us as workers in this Project is Job security. The Direct Field Labor(DFL) are all offered the Limited Duration Contracts (LDC). The bloodbath of job lossfrom time to time is sorely hitting hard on us and the simple reason for termination by the Management is the ‘completion of scope of work’. This process brings alot of psychological frustration because as a frontline defender of our members you are the first person to recieve this bad news of the intention to demobilize employees.
South Africa is one of the countries globally that has the highest unemployment rate especially the young people. It is sorely disturbing to witness your colleagues loosing their jobs without being provided with an alternative or solution of how are they going to ensure that they sustainably put bread on the table for their beloved families, no option provided on how are they going to ensure that they pay school fees for their own children. This worst butchering emphatically means that they must just go and join the queue of unemployment and eventually increase the unemployment statistics and also go and join the queue of RDP house seekers. This is a serious clarion call for the permanent decent job and the living wage of a minimum of R12 500.
- Gender struggle remain one of the major challenges in the workplace. Women are often the soft target of gender insensitivity. Women are the only oppressed class in the society who work long hours and get paid less. At Mabhele and Associates, it’s approximately 18% employed women. This is a clear indication that very few women participate in the mainstream of the economy. This can be the result of an illusion that women are not capable to perform the task or duties usually performed by males especially in the construction industry. Sexual harassment is one of the day to day social illness because women are in minority from the festival of men, they usually make silly disrespectful comments when a women is passing. Serious lack of women in leadership is one of the short-coming that need to addressed. Out of 10 Foreman is only one Forelady. However, I have learnt that women themselves spend alot of time gossiping about one another.
They ultimately organise themselves to drag one of their own into mud or destroy another women instead of supporting each other. The notion that when a woman is promoted to the senior position its because she exchanged her body with her boss must be condemned. It’s not enough that we keep promising about women empowerment and gender equality but women need to be capacitated sooner than yesterday as Thomas Sankara has once said” the is no true liberation without the liberation of the women”
- Covid-19 and the National Lockdown has exposed the limits capitalism, the extreme effects of inequalities and has directly affected the working class and the poor. Let me seize this opportunity to relay deepest condolences to all the families who lost their loved ones as result of this global pandemic. Indeed, Covid-19 9 brought our lives into an error of day-to-day loss of life in big numbers.
Temporary Employee Relief Scheme( TERS) introduced by the government in the eve of hard national lockdown especially for companies unable to pay salaries for their own employees was just a slice of the bread. It was way below the minimum wage, let alone the highest level of corruption during the discharge of this rands and cents to the poor deserving worker.
The democratic black government of 26 years in power absolutely do not care about the workers. Our main challenge was that TERS was deposited to our bank account DURING the end of April 2020 but from May to August 2020 they absolutely failed to be consistent and the tap of the scheme was closed.
Workers at this project for the first time had an ache of loosing every benefit due to them. Eventually, this lead to a serious negative impact to workers annual bonuses through the reduction of leave pay and reduced accumulated project hours. The Management is claiming that we were absent from work during lockdown. The fundamental mental question that need to be respond to is that ‘ workers were absent from work without permission during lockdown or not ?’ for them to suffer this worst butcher. Even today our demands are not met by our immediate employer and the client Eskom. We are not going to retreat because we have a firm belief that we did not locked ourselves down instead we were absent with permission from the 26 March 2020 till 06 August 2020.
- Skills development remain the cornerstone of economic development. The purpose of skills development is to expand the knowledge and competencies of the work force in order to improve productivity. The main aim is to improve the quality of life of workers, their prospects of work and labour mobility. The challenge with our Site Specific Skills Plan(SSSP) is the quality of trainings interventions because of the type of employment contract.
Limited Duration Contract have an element to impede our strategic plan for the Skills development trainings that would ultimately produce qualified artisans through Recognition Prior-Learning ( RPL) program. This is because of the shortness life span of workers in the Project. The main challenge is that most vulnerable workers are employed as general workers. We always target them to development but unfortunately they are the ones that are retrenched in numbers time and again. After we have realised this challenge we have atleast managed to reach agreement with the management that employees which are on SSSP and likely to be affected in the next termination must be trained even if they have already been retrenched because they were budgeted for in that financial year. We view this as a bacon of hope because after receiving certificate of competence they will be able to compete in labour market not only as general workers anymore.
In conclusion I want say that I do not regret to be a member of this gigantic movement National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. I really appreciate the opportunity that members of Numsa at Mabhele and Associates to have afforded me and trusting me enough to elect me to be the receiver of their mandates, to be the one they believe must advance and strengthen as well as champion their struggle and trying everything in mind to best represent their interests. In closing I want to say those who have not join Numsa must think again.