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Jul 08, 2009

Safcec, unions to meet Labour Minister on construction strike

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Labour unions and the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) would meet with Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana on Thursday to discuss a possible solution to the nation wide strike.

“We will go there with an open mind. We are open to explore areas of settlement,” said the Building, Construction and Allied Workers Union (BCAWU) spokesperson Marius Moloto.

However, he added that the strike would continue, despite further negotiations. “The strike will go ahead until a settlement is reached, only then will we call it off.”

Safcec spokesperson Joe Campanella has confirmed that strategic projects such as the 2010 stadiums, airports and the Gautrain have been targeted by strike action with some other projects also being affected.

“Safcec remains concerned about the effect that the current industrial action will have on the 2010 World Cup and has reaffirmed its commitment to finding a solution. Safcec has been available throughout the past weeks to the unions for discussion and remains available,” Campanella said.

Thousands of workers started a nationwide strike on Wednesday afternoon, after wage negotiations broke down earlier this month. The unions were demanding a 13% increase in wages, as well as other benefits, while Safcec was offering a 10,4% raise.

However, Campanella told Engineering News Online that the demands made by the unions equalled a 65% wage increase. He noted that the unions had negotiated on a package basis, which not only included a 13% raise in minimum wages, but also annual bonuses, paid maternity leave and reduced working hours without the loss of pay.

“This will have a huge cost impact on both the small and big companies, imagine a 65% increase in your wages,” Campanella said.

Moloto countered that the unions and the workers did not equate their other demands with a monetary value. “The minimum salaries are very low, so you can’t make that argument with a worker. They understand what goes into their pocket, not how it builds up into the employer’s total cost.”

He added that the higher wages would also not affect the employers directly, as the client would ultimately have to foot the bill. “After all, the clients pay, the wages do not come out of the employer’s good will or out of his own pockets. When the employers tender for a project, the total costs are added to that tender, so the cost is carried through to the clients. They cannot tell you they are doing it out of their pockets, the argument doesn’t carry water.”

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has pledged its support to the construction workers’ strike.

“The federation shares the National Union of Mineworker’s anger at Safcec’s assertion that they cannot give workers an additional 3% because they are building stadiums for what is largely a ‘poor man’s game’ and that if these workers were building golf courses it would have been different,” Cosatu said in a statement.

The congress noted that the dispute was not targeting the World Cup venues, but was a normal dispute within the entire sector.

“Cosatu, and the construction workers, are as passionate about the 2010 World Cup as anyone, and will do everything possible to ensure its success. But we will not tolerate the stadiums being built by workers who are underpaid or working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions.”

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
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