News in South Africa 5th August:
1. Nationwide strike averted:
A general strike in the public sector, which could have shut down state hospitals, schools, and police stations, has been averted but possible industrial action might be in the offing in SA’s engineering and steel industry.
A strike in the engineering and steel industry, which contributes about 10% to SA’s overall economic activity, could further harm an economy that is still reeling from Covid-19 related lockdowns and the recent week of anarchy.
In the public sector, salary negotiations were concluded in July after a majority of trade unions that represent 1.3 million public servants accepted the government’s offer of a 1.5% salary increase for 2021.
The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which claims to have more than 339,000 members, has trashed the government’s offer for public servants, calling it an “insult” because public sector unions were pushing for an increase of at least 8%.
Numsa is also seeing red in the engineering and steel industry as the union has threatened to go on a “mother of all strikes” for higher pay. Numsa has demanded a salary increase of 8% for workers in the engineering and steel industry for one year (2021), then an adjustment of consumer inflation plus 2% for the following two years. This works out to salary increases of just over 6% because the SA Reserve Bank expects inflation to average 4.2% and 4.5% in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
In a media statement, Irvin Jim, the Numsa general secretary, said workers were willing to not accept salary increases in 2020 when Covid-19 burrowed its way into SA, forcing the economy to shut down and the profitability of engineering and steel companies to be impacted.
But employers in the engineering and steel industry are not entertaining Numsa’s salary adjustment demands as they have tabled a 4.4% increase for 2021, an inflation plus 0.5% increase in 2022, and inflation plus 1% increase in 2023. Using the Reserve Bank’s inflation forecast, the offer of employers works out to salary increases of about 4.7% in 2022 and 5.5% in 2023.
Numsa has rejected the offer by the employers and declared a dispute on Thursday 29 July at the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council, where conditions of employment in the industry are discussed. Numsa wants the employers to reconsider their salary adjustment offer, failing that, the union will “serve employers with a 48-hour notice for an indefinite national strike.”
2. Sasol “forcing” vaccinations:
Trade union Solidarity says it will meet with Sasol management to express its unhappiness about a requirement that workers at its Secunda plant in Mpumalanga must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or they must produce a negative test every seven days.
The requirement is for around 20 000 workers who are scheduled to take part in the annual maintenance work of the petrochemicals plant which produces fuel from coal.
Workers who choose not to be vaccinated will have to pay for their own weekly COVID-19 test which is said to cost around R850.
Solidarity Spokesperson, Riaan Visser says the requirement is tantamount to making workers pay for the slow pace of the government vaccine rollout programme.
In related news, the Mpumalanga government partnered with Sasol last month to vaccinate over 8 000 employees and service providers in Secunda.
3. Automotive industry taking a knock:
While the latest indicators for the second quarter of 2021 suggest an uptick in the local car market, the combined effects of the latest third wave lockdowns and civil unrest could hit the South African automotive industry hard in the coming months – with potential knock-on effects for the economy, warns TransUnion.
According to the latest TransUnion SA Vehicle Pricing Index (VPI), total financial agreement volumes in the passenger market increased substantially year-on-year, with a 64% rise in Q2 2021 over the lockdown-affected Q2 2020, which saw the local industry register no sales in April 2020.
However, these ‘green shoots’ could be wiped out by the recent level 4 regulations and July’s civil unrest, which severely disrupted motor manufacturing operations and supply chains, said Kriben Reddy, vice president of auto information solutions for TransUnion Africa.
“Where 2020’s level 5 lockdowns created a demand issue in the market, the combination of the 2021 level 4 lockdowns and civil unrest have created both demand and supply issues, with motor
manufacturers suspending operations and supply chains coming to a halt.
“The knock-on effects could be significant: if manufacturers aren’t building, selling and exporting cars, they need fewer people, which leads to greater unemployment and a major setback for an industry which contributes 6.7% to GDP,” said Reddy.
The Q2 VPI showed a dramatic rise in the price of used cars as demand for quality used stock surged.
While new vehicle finance deals in Q2 increased year-on-year by 52%, the number of deals for used vehicles increased by 70%. Accordingly, the VPI for new vehicles eased to 6.1% in Q2 2021 from 6.5% in Q2 2020.
Meanwhile, the used vehicle VPI rose sharply to 4.9% from 1.6% a year ago and is expected to surpass the new vehicle VPI this year.
The VPI measures the relationship between the increase in vehicle pricing for new and used vehicles from a basket of passenger vehicles which incorporates 15 top volume manufacturers. The index is created using vehicle sales data from across the industry.
4. Measures for school safety released:
The Department of Basic Education has announced various intervention measures to ensure that all primary schools and special schools are safe as schools slowly gear towards receiving all pupils daily.
Rules tabled in the Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on Tuesday include the adequate supply of water by various provinces to schools for regular hand washing, monitoring of strict mask wearing, and the provision of Covid-19 essentials such as masks, face shields, hand sanitisers and soaps, among others.
Primary schools across South Africa will have Covid-19 essentials when they reopen during the third term, according to the department of basic education.
These include masks for learners, teachers and non-educators, face shields, hand sanitisers, detergents and soap, disposable gloves, and heavy-duty gloves for cleaners.
There are various ways for schools to obtain these essentials, and these include central procurement and distribution to schools, particularly in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northern Cape, and North West.
Funds can also be transferred to schools to procure their own Covid-19 essentials. This applies to the Eastern Cape, Free Sate, Mpumalanga, and the Western Cape.
Cloth masks have a lifespan of six months, according to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. All provinces have, therefore, made funds available to obtain new masks.
Not wearing a mask properly or at all is considered a serious misconduct, and all schools will be monitored to ensure strict compliance.
According to the department, monitoring compliance is done at the following levels:
- Principals, other School Management Team members and teachers doing daily monitoring
- Circuit managers and district officials doing spot checks
- Provincial head offices doing regular monitoring on a sample basis, spot checking, employing monitors
Pupils, staff members, and visitors will not be allowed to enter a school premises if they show symptoms of Covid-19.
Funds have been made available to provinces to employ about 49,741 screeners to carry out screening.
To further protect pupils and staff members:
- All schools have already been provided with adequate thermometers according to the size of pupil enrolment
- Infrared thermometers are checked regularly to ensure that they are not faulty and giving false readings
- Dysfunctional or damaged thermometers are returned to the suppliers or are replaced
- All provinces have measures to ensure that infrared thermometers are sufficient and that they are functional at all times
5. Social relief grant rolls out at month-end:
South Africa’s R350 social relief grants will start rolling out by month-end, social development minister Lindiwe Zulu has announced, with applications expected to open on Friday. Government is promising additional pay points and more improved, systems.
The Social Development department and Sassa will be partnering with retailers and banks to increase pay points and minimise queues previously seen at post offices.
The previous grant received more than 10 million applications with almost 6 million approved.
With caregivers now eligible to receive the grant, applications are expected to exceed these figures.
But the Sassa CEO says despite additional beneficiaries, long queues at pay points will be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, unions have called on government to implement a permanent basic grant. Zulu said that her department is also in the process of forming a policy to introduce a permanent basic income grant.