Workers at petroleum giant Sasol are divided over the new share scheme that minority interest union Solidarity considers racist and unfair, while Cosatu’s Matthew Parks says the reality is that black women are at the bottom of the income ladder.
Solidarity, which represents about 6,000 workers at the company, yesterday began industrial action at Sasol’s operation in Secunda in Mpumalanga and was planning a three week “strategic” strike that would be rolled out in phases.
Last week Sasol said it had contingency measures in place after receiving the union’s notice of intention to strike.
“What we are saying is workers need to be treated fairly, because we are all workers”, said the union’s deputy general secretary, Deon Reyneke. “Sasol created this new scheme, giving everyone except white workers R500,000 worth of shares. This is unfair and they need to treat us the same as everybody else.”
While Solidarity was up in arms over the purported discrimination against white workers at the company, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it was in talks with Sasol because it was against the scheme for other reasons.
“We also have to conclude discussions with the employer with regard to the scheme, but we do not have a mandate to strike.
“There are issues. The scheme does not translate to rands and cents; it is just a scheme on paper. It does not benefit the workers, so we are still engaging on that level,” said Tshilidzi Mathaba, the union’s regional organiser in Mpumalanga.
The scheme was introduced by Sasol in June this year, under the name Sasol Khanyisa. It would replace a previous scheme called Izalo, which, according to Solidarity, was open to all races, whereas the new one was not.
The Khanyisa scheme, according to Sasol, was created to benefit 230,000 black shareholders and qualifying employees.
In its first phase, all qualifying employees regardless of race would be included and be eligible for R100,000 worth of shares. This would be available to more than 18,000 employees at Sasol, a third of which were white.
The second phase, which became the bone of contention, would only be available to black employees (African, coloured and Indian). Participants would be eligible for 1,240 Sasol Khanyisa rights to share.
The logic used by Solidarity to claim discrimination was flawed, according to Matthew Parks, the parliamentary coordinator for trade union federation Cosatu.
“The constitution allows for what is called positive discrimination. Basically, it is a means to address the legacies of apartheid and colonialism, and that is how affirmative action and other equity policies such as black economic empowerment are catered for,” argued Parks.
He added that BEE share schemes had been par for the course in many companies and parastatals, and should continue to be so until the country reached a stage where all previously disadvantaged citizens were competing on an equal footing.
“Some time has passed since the dawn of democracy and one would have hoped that the playing field would have levelled out, but in our current socioeconomic situation we are far from that.”
Parks further argued that while Solidarity was well within its constitutional rights to fight for minority rights, there were better options in this regard.
“Solidarity is an Afrikaner trade union with very few black members and they have shown that their position is around protecting the interests of the white demographic. They have every right to do so,” he said.
“But I think they have to try to find another way of engaging and really finding each other, because we do not want this to become something ugly. The reality is that black women are at the bottom of the income ladder.”