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News :: Labor
Retrenched workers protest outside the NUMSA national congress
28 Sep 2004
On Monday, 19 September, workers who had been retrenched from the South African Manganese Corporation (Samancor) protested against the inaction of their union in the face of the mass lay-offs. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) was opening its 7th national congress at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, when news of the arrival of the retrenched Samancor workers ruffled the feathers of union officials more accustomed to making demands than receiving them. But the man NUMSA sent out to receive the memorandum - its General-Secretary, Silumko Nondwangu - was conciliatory. Although the memorandum mentions the 98 workers - at least - who have died since their retrenchment, leaders of the Samancor Retrenched Workers' Crisis Committee (SRWCC) accepted his pledge to address the issues raised. No representative from the SRWCC was invited to attend the congress, however, and NUMSA marshals worked with the police to keep the protestors outside the gate.
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FROM S.AFRICA IMC:

On Monday, 19 September, workers who had been retrenched from the South African Manganese Corporation (Samancor) protested against the inaction of their union in the face of the mass lay-offs. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) was opening its 7th national congress at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, when news of the arrival of the retrenched Samancor workers ruffled the feathers of union officials more accustomed to making demands than receiving them. But the man NUMSA sent out to receive the memorandum - its General-Secretary, Silumko Nondwangu - was conciliatory. Although the memorandum mentions the 98 workers - at least - who have died since their retrenchment, leaders of the Samancor Retrenched Workers' Crisis Committee (SRWCC) accepted his pledge to address the issues raised. No representative from the SRWCC was invited to attend the congress, however, and NUMSA marshals worked with the police to keep the protestors outside the gate.

NUMSA implicated in "CAPITAL(ist) PUNISHMENT"

The decision by the SRWCC to petition the NUMSA congress follows years of reluctance by the union to intervene and its silence to a letter of invitation to meet. Bafana Khumalo, general-secretary of the SRWCC, informed the regional organiser of NUMSA, Oupa Masangane, about the escalating number of deaths amongst retrenched Samancor workers. The sound of alarm was carried by Masangane in his bag on a visit to the Samancor plant in Meyerton. He 'lost his bag in Samancor' and has since not investigated the matter further. Without any support or recognition from NUMSA, the SRWCC turned to Khanya College, Jubilee South Africa and the Anti Privatisation Forum. With these organisations' support, they are hoping to raise public concern about their plight.

The loss of the NUMSA bag of worry was a case of theft - Samancor outsources labour services to a company set up by the plant's NUMSA shopstewards, called Vukani. These shopstewards expedited the retrenchments of 509 workers between 1999 and 2001 by telling them that the plant was closing down. Vukani instead opened and began casualising employment at Samancor. Labour relations were restructured by new owners of Samancor, Billiton, and in 2002 it was the first company to split from the national bargaining council for the heavy metals industry.

Workers poisoned by Samancor/Billiton: "Death before profits"

By the time of Samancor's purchase by Billiton, the British multinational company, medical tests had been conducted on all workers at Samancor Vaal. None of the test reports were disclosed to the workers themselves. Retrenchment notices were rather returned to many of those workers who, it would transpire, were poisoned: of the 509 workers that have been retrenched since the medical tests, many have died from the effects of exposure to manganese. 53 Death certificates for Samancor workers who have died since 1999 have been collected by the SRWCC. These were obtained from family members that could still be located. And survivors of work at Samancor are debilitated by poor health. While a cluster of medical examinations of affected workers conducted by the National Centre for Occupational Health have verified poisoning, access to the original medical reports has been one of the demands made to Samancor by the SRWCC.

Widows of deceased workers joined the protest to add their demand for compensation from Samancor. While their husbands contributed to a provident fund while working, nothing has been paid out to bereaved families. The fund's administrators, NBC, enjoys favour with the unions and commonly advertises in labour publications. NBC had set up a marketing table outside the NUMSA congress.

Samancor denies that any death of its employees can be attributed to occupational disease. Any claim of occupational disease it will investigate, but not at its own expense according to its general manager, P.C. Hechter.

*Amandla! awethu* nonetheless

Despite persistent condemnations of NUMSA at Monday’s protest, union officials managed to invoke working class comradeship to disarm the retrenched workers. They explained that the national office couldn’t be held accountable for the situation of former Samancor workers that the regional office should have attended to. Whether the NUMSA national office actually does investigate after the congress, as protestors were assured it would do, could bring some reprieve to the workers still employed at Samancor. But no retrenched worker left Midrand believing that NUMSA will be supporting the march on Samancor/Billiton next week.

The SRWCC will be marching on Samancor/Billiton on Monday, 27 September. Marchers will be converging at the Westgate taxi rank from 10a.m. onwards
Contact Bafana Khumalo on 0735377963

This work is in the public domain
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