A wall allegedly damaged during a strike in the plastics industry. Picture: SUPPLIED
A wall allegedly damaged during a strike in the plastics industry. Picture: SUPPLIED

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which has been accused of inciting violence in a deadly eight-week plastic-sector strike, has now claimed employers are responsible for “psychological violence” inflicted on workers.

Last week, employers in the sector blamed the union for incidents of violence, destruction to property and other damages incurred at firms in Ekurhuleni, where workers have been striking over wages.

A security officer, Lesley Mphahlele, who was employed at Herber Plastic in the region, died after he was doused with petrol and set alight, allegedly by the strikers. Numsa has dismissed this version of events, saying it does not organise workers at the firm.

Numsa and the Metal and Electrical Union of SA members 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.

Plastics Converters Association of SA CEO Johan Pieterse told Business Day last week that a mediation process led by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)  proposed a settlement agreement, which all employer bodies agreed to. He said the unions rejected the offer that lifts the lowest-paid general workers’ wages to R43 an hour and the highest-paid skilled workers to a R77 hourly rate, working 40 hours a week.

Pieterse said that, at the time, 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 to not 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 the association 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.

However, on Tuesday, Numsa blamed the employers for the prolonged strike.

“By prolonging the strike from October 15 to date, the bosses have mercilessly guaranteed that our members starve over this period, as workers pay every day, for any time they are on strike. We have also had to repeatedly refute false claims made by employers in the plastics sector," said Numsa spokesperson  Phakamile Hlubi-Majola in a statement.

“Consistently, they have accused Numsa of violence. Numsa is not a violent trade union. Our members know how to conduct themselves during a strike and on picket lines. We are an experienced and mature trade union.”