A member of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is pictured during a march. File photo: REUTERS
A member of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is pictured during a march. File photo: REUTERS

The eight-week violent strike in the plastics sector, which claimed its first fatality last Friday, continues, in spite of a proposed wage settlement offer that exceeds the demands tabled by the unions.

Employer body the Plastics Convertors Association of SA said on Thursday that it would seek the intervention of “high ranking” government officials to end the labour dispute.

Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the Metal and Electrical Union of SA embarked on a strike at manufacturing, moulding and packaging companies across the country when wage talks deadlocked two months ago.

The strike has been marred by incidents of intimidation, destruction of property and violence, with employers issuing warnings weeks ago that if not stopped, the violence would escalate.

Numerous attempts to interdict the strike have also failed.

On Friday, a security guard at a plastics factory in Springs was doused with petrol and set alight. He succumbed to his injuries, while an employee who was assaulted at a plastics company in the same area three weeks ago is still in the ICU.

Plastics Convertors Association of SA CEO Johan Pieterse said the damage caused to employers’ properties in Ekurhuleni amounted to hundreds of millions of rand and would devastate some businesses and affect jobs.

A mediation process led by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) led to a proposed settlement agreement, which all employer bodies agreed to.

The unions were yet to budge on the offer that lifts the lowest-paid general workers’ wages to R43 per hour and the highest-paid skilled workers to a R77 hourly rate, working 40 hours a week.

Entry-level employees are currently paid R28.07 per hour.

Pieterse said the strike had died down in most parts of the country, with the action only under way in the Ekurhuleni region.

He said the strike was no longer about wages and conditions of work. “We have settled the demands for wages and conditions of work, what we are not willing to settle for is not to pursue disciplinary action or charges for destruction of property and assault.”

The association said it was determined to file a damages claim against Numsa, adding that there was evidence that placed the union’s members at factories where petrol bombs were used to damage property and assault workers.

Pieterse said they would also proceed with contempt of court charges following Numsa’s failure to adhere to a court interdict by the labour court that ruled against the use of violence and intimidation.

In the past, Numsa has denied that its members have been involved in the violence, saying employers had no way of distinguishing between ordinary workers who were also taking part in the strike and its members.

Labour consultant Tony Healy told Business Day that even if the recently implemented laws governing strikes were in effect, they would not be able to resolve a dispute of this nature.

The provision contained in the Labour Relations Act was created to get rid of prolonged, violent strikes by forming an advisory body that would intervene in such cases.

It also includes a stipulation that obliges unions to ballot its members before strikes are declared.

“My view is that there is no relationship between secret strike ballots and the degrees of violence. The only thing that the secret ballot does do is confirm that union members have elected to strike and there is not a scenario where there is only a minority,” he said.