FIFI PETERS: We’re trying to make connection with Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers Union), which is the union that has not at this stage signed a deal with Transnet, following the news earlier that the United National Transport Union, Untu, had agreed to the wage deal that had been recommended by the CCMA of a 6% wage increase for this year.
It is interesting to see the amount of discomfort that the strike has caused quite a number of players. In fact, the mining industry is said to be losing around R815 million in lost exports just as a result of this strike.
We have the deputy general secretary of Satawu, Anele Kiet, on the line for more on the story. Anele, thanks so much for your time. I understand that you are quite in demand right now, given the fact that we have heard some positive developments on this Transnet strike – that Untu has signed the three-year wage deal. What is your current position?
ANELE KIET: As Satawu are disappointed by the betrayal that Untu staged to us today. As parties, we’ve agreed, as combined labour or collective labour, we will work together on this journey, up until the end. [As such] we were puzzled to learn that Untu has signed an agreement today which is insulting to the workers. It’s a clear indication [of who Untu represents] in Transnet. And also we are disappointed by the fact that Transnet was able to have a bilateral meeting with Untu.
This is the first of its kind; never in the history of bargaining within Transnet, will Transnet have [had] bilateral meetings with unions separately.
FIFI PETERS: How did that happen? From my understanding there were talks between management and unions that took place today. So you were saying that there was one talk where all of you were at the table, and then Transnet had a separate one with Untu?
ANELE KIET: No, there were no discussions between us and Transnet today. On Saturday our members gave us a mandate that they are rejecting the settlement proposal that was proposed by CCMA commissioners. We wrote back to the CCMA commissioners with regard [to that], and there were no discussions from that time until now, between ourselves and the CCMA, only to learn via the media statement that went out now that Untu had signed an agreement, and they had a bilateral with Transnet.
FIFI PETERS: From my understanding, Untu has the biggest membership and therefore my question is: what does this do to your position? Surely it weakens it as Satawu?
ANELE KIET: No. Look, as we speak right now, members of Untu are calling Satawu officials [saying] that this is a total betrayal from the side of their leadership. They’ve been working with Satawu every day. Even today we’ve been addressing workers in different picket lines where Untu members are part of the strike, and they’ve been saying that they are rejecting the proposal of the CCMA commissioners. As we speak, they’re calling … to Satawu on the basis that they are betrayed by the union. But that is the issue of Untu.
Where we are as Satawu, Satawu members remain resolute that tomorrow the struggle continues; they will be at their picketing lines. The leadership of Satawu will criss-cross the country to make sure that we intensify the strike, because we cannot agree that Transnet signs an agreement, or sleeps in bed with one union while there are two unions that are being recognised in Transnet.
And of course we will intensify our strike and make sure that we represent the members who have elected us to represent their aspirations.
FIFI PETERS: What do you mean by ‘intensify the strike’? What are you going to do differently tomorrow?
ANELE KIET: We will work with other unions that share the same view that workers who are underpaid within Transnet need to get the biggest chunk of the profits that Transnet declared in the last financial year. So we will continue to go on the picket lines, encourage our members to come out in numbers – including those who decided to work during this period – to come and join the workers because this is their opportunity to change their lives.
FIFI PETERS: What exactly is Satawu looking for in terms of a wage agreement? Although 6% is below the current CPI right now, we are seeing a number of deals being signed for 6% in this environment; things are still pretty tough for the economy and, in fact, a lot of people are not getting any increases at all. So why is 6% not a reasonable offer for Satawu, and what is it that you are looking for?
ANELE KIET: You can’t tell me, Fifi, that an employee who takes home R8 000 must accept 6%, while you are going to give employees who would take home R350 000 per month a 3% increment. What is 3% of R350 000, and what is 6% of R9 000? That is unfair.
We are saying that, Transnet, you have declared R5 billion in profits and workers, ordinary workers who have made sure that they push these targets, deserve a bigger chunk in this regard.
Satawu members are saying, in fact, that anything that is equal to the inflation rate or above it they’re willing to consider at this point in time; they are not going to accept 6%. That’s the mandate given to us by our members.
FIFI PETERS: There are also reports that one of the demands is around guaranteeing that there won’t be any retrenchments in the year ahead, or job cuts. Is that your position? Is that also one of the requests that you have as part of this deal?
ANELE KIET: Our conscience is very clear, my dear sister. Transnet is a state-owned entity. A state-owned entity is supposed to make jobs, not just ordinary jobs but decent jobs. It can’t be correct that Transnet is preoccupied by retrenchment. We will fight that to the bitter end as Satawu. That there is no commitment from the side of Transnet not to shed jobs – it can’t be correct. These workers come from the communities that have voted [in] this government of the African National Congress that deployed people in the state-owned entities to make sure that they look after their interests, and it can’t be correct that certain people sit on the board, sit in the executive of Transnet, decide that they only make it a point that they say Transnet is [shedding] jobs.
FIFI PETERS: Anele, thanks so much for taking the time to explain your position to us. We’ll be watching very closely what happens tomorrow. Anele Kiet, the deputy general secretary of Satawu, was making really interesting comments about the position of Untu, which we have learned has signed the wage deal with Transnet.
Satawu is claiming that some of the members of Untu are not necessarily happy with the signing of that, and they wanted more. They are calling him and they are communicating to him that they’re not happy via phone. I suppose it would be a good idea to get Untu on for a right of reply and a response to the [claim] that perhaps the deal that they signed is not the deal that their members bargained for.