Ricochet News

VIDEO: Agni Steels SA workers picket over alleged worker mistreatment at Coega plant

By Afikile Lugunya - Jan 5, 2018
VIDEO: Agni Steels SA workers picket over alleged worker mistreatment at Coega plant

Disgruntled workers from Agni Steels SA Pty, which is based in the Coega IDZ, in Port Elizabeth, on Friday held a picket in front of the Port Elizabeth High Court where their lawyers approached the courts to intervene in a month-long dispute with their employer.

The workers, who are aligned with the Liberated Metalworkers Union of South Africa (LIMUSA), downed tools at the beginning of December over alleged abuse at the steel-maker.

Speaking to RNEWS, they said that while they had applied for a protected strike, they were surprised when the company locked them out and the event went ahead to hire new workers to replace them.

According to Bonginkosi Zulu, who is the National Legal officer for LIMUSA, Coega Agni Steels SA Proprietary Limited demanded that LIMUSA, which is the majority trade union at the company, signs a wage agreement that was concluded by the company and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Solidarity (NUMSA), which is a minority trade union.

LIMUSA claims to have over 140 members in the plant compared to NUMSA's 13.

“The problem of this agreement is that is it against the Bargaining Council minimum wage, which is currently close to R40, however in terms of this agreement, workers receive between R24 and R31.

"Now our demand to the company is that the company must pay each worker a minimum of R40.47, but the employer refused and forced them to sign what he proposed,” Zulu described.

“Agni Steels SA Proprietary Limited tried to apply for an interdict, but the court ruled in the favour of the workers and the Court stated that the company must pay LIMUSA's application costs and because of that demand, we got a legitimate right to strike.”

Zulu added that workers were in their right to want to strike, but the employer decided to lock them out.

“The law states that a company can lockout workers if it is in response to a strike - not to lock workers out because of a strike notice because when we issue a strike notice, it doesn’t mean that I have started the strike.

“The workers of the Agni Steels SA Proprietary Limited haven’t held a strike against the company, but they have been locked out as we speak - and a lockout is offensive,” he said.

Several workers waved around placards that were written 'GUPTA’s must fall'.

One of the employees, Buleleka Jama, explained what they meant by that: “Originally the company is from India, it started to operate at Coega on 2014, around March, where they melt steels and turn them into carbon steel.

“They came here with their Indian workers in a name to train South African, but that doesn’t happen because they do the same job.

"Along the way, we discovered that doesn’t happen in all these years and since 2014, we were paid R24.81 per hour and it doesn’t matter what your job entails, whether you clean or you an electrician everything is the same,” Jama explained.

“There is no development here; we are still being paid the same amount of money we were paid in 2014 and nothing changes while the Indians earn way more than we do, but we are doing the same job."

According to the employees, they first approached a NUMSA steward at the plant to mediate between them and the company, but a month later, he was employed by Agni Steels as their HR Manager since January 2016 till today.

“What is going on here is very emotional to an extent that employees received the strike notice while they were starting to give up,” Sonwabo France, who started to work there in February 2014 said.

“We work with very dangerous materials like carbon and manganese, but they cannot give us a medical aid and that is what we are fighting for here. We work outside; it is even difficult to get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the company.

“We work shifts, even when it is cold. We want to earn at least the entry rate, which is R40, and benefits.”

Another worker, Ludwe Zici, alleged that their a senior manager once warned them that the company belonged to the controversial Gupta family.

“We were in an argument with the [senior manager], then he turned and said that no court of law will ever rule in our favour because this firm is under the African National Congress and the Guptas because it was opened by the ANC in 2014,” Zici claimed.

Addressing the workers, Zulu said that he believed the courts would once again rule in their favour and urged them to stay strong.

“Today, the company submitted papers in court, so what we will do is to read them and answer them in addition also file the heads of arguments that the court order instructs us to do," he described.

“We want the company to stop using the replacement labour while workers are outside. We want justice in a form that will declare what the company is doing unlawful therefore it is interdicted."

news 17974 22414 li12 jpeg