A nationwide protected protest against steel manufacturing company Macsteel, which started on Monday, was sparked by the retrenchment of 99 workers.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said protests at all of Macsteel’s branches across the country were in an effort to have the workers reinstated – a commitment Macsteel says it cannot fulfil.
Workers cannot be rehired
The company told The Citizen that due to its business models having changed, the 99 workers will not be reinstated.
“We are not going to compromise on these. We need to focus on the future to protect the jobs that remain. Those that remain employed and committed to the future of Macsteel will be fairly treated.”
Numsa labelled Macsteel a “cold and calculating employer” for letting the workers go during the festive season last year.
“They have no sympathy for workers and their families and the suffering they will endure from being unemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Numsa said on social media.
Macsteel said it was “unfortunate” that Section 189A retrenchments took place over December last year, but argued its intention to retrench staff first emerged in June 2020.
“Since then [Macsteel] has consulted extensively with trade unions, including Numsa, and non-unionised parties in attempts to minister the unfortunate implementation of Section 189A retrenchments.”
The company said jobs had to be said “to protect the remaining jobs at Macsteel.”
Steel sector decline
Macsteel explained that South Africa’s economic instability coupled with woes of the steel sector meant the company “has had to adjust”.
“In 2013 we employed 5300 staff in South Africa. Today we will be employing approximately 2500.”
They said that volumes had declined annually for the past five years, which resulted in Macsteel selling and moving 40% less steel last year than it did in 2015.
“No business can survive if it doesn’t change in that context.”
Allegations from Numsa also emerged on Monday that top management was only suspending staff to line their own pockets.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said in an interview on 702 on Monday that “Macsteel has been retrenching workers every year in order to pay exorbitant bonuses to management. They maximise profits whilst workers are dying of hunger.”
— NUMSA (@Numsa_Media) January 18, 2021
Macsteel argued that “there is absolutely no substance to this allegation”, qualifying the retrenchments as being a necessary move to “make the company sustainable in very tough trading conditions”, adding that their priority now was “to preserve the jobs that remain.”
“We are all being impacted by this [Covid-19 pandemic] and as a nation, we need to unite and positively change to turn our prospects around.
“Every individual and company in this country needs to reinvent themselves for the future, not fight the inevitable short-term realities.”