The sugar sector remains embroiled in a crisis after dispute negotiations over the past weekend in Ballito, KZN, did not yield any substantial results.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) rejected the 6% offer from the employer as it was below the expectations of the Union’s membership. The next round of negotiations will take place on 12 June 2018 to try and reach an agreement.

AMCU, Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and UASA met with the employers in a matter that was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) by the latter two unions, after reaching a deadlock during wage negotiations. A dispute was declared by FAWU and UASA – which have formed a coalition – despite AMCU’s willingness to negotiate further with the employers. However, the employers refused to engage AMCU further during initial wage negotiations because the Union was in the minority.

At the conciliation, AMCU’s Durban Metro Regional Secretary, Lonwabo Kakana, informed the presiding commissioner, Moe Ally, that “The employer never responded to our demands, but we took recognisance to revise our demands”. The Union’s revised demands concern employees graded between levels A1 and C3. Comrade Kakana said their reviewed demands now included a minimum salary of R11 000 instead of the initial R12 500; a 12% increase for those earning more than R15 000 – down from 15%; a 10% increase in shift allowance – also down from 15%; and a R6 000 monthly housing allowance which was initially R8 600.

The rest of the demands remain unchanged: long service awards, full medical aid cover, four months paid maternity leave and transport provision. “We believe that the company can afford this based on the factors that we have articulated with them,” Kakana added.

After consulting with the employer, Ally said the employer was only willing to stretch their initial 5,6% offer to 6% effective from 1 April 2018 or a 6.25% increase from 1 July 2018. With the rest of the demands, the employers said they agreed to setup a task team to deal with the housing allowance, transport provision, medical aid and hours of work.

After caucusing, AMCU’s bargaining delegates – including National Treasurer Jimmy Gama – unanimously agreed that their core mandate was to negotiate the Union’s demands. Comrade Gama said, “We unanimously agree that we reject the offer. We understand that you are in a very difficult situation as the commissioner facilitating this process because of the nature of the negotiations

itself, the manner in which the negotiations have been conducted and the approach in which the employer has taken in terms of responding to the demands of different union. We, as AMCU, find it very difficult to find a way in which there can be a possible solution of settlement in this round of negotiations. This is purely because the employers have put themselves into a corner by only responding to the demands that were presented to them by the unions forming a majority, FAWU and UASA.”

Comrade Gama added that the Union is of the view that it has been undermined, side-lined and deliberately ignored without reason. In the spirit of negotiating, AMCU offered a conditional settlement valid for 2 June 2018. The temporary demands included a salary adjustment of R1 200 for those earning below R15 000; an 8% increase for those earning R15 000 or more; a R2 500 monthly housing allowance; a 13% shift allowance increase; an 80% medical aid subsidy by the employers and four months paid maternity leave. Comrade Gama said the Union was willing to engage further on the rest of the demands. “There is no employer who is reasonable enough in mind who cannot consider this.”

Until this dispute is resolved, the future of workers remains in limbo.