About 174 construction workers involved in building schools in the Western Cape have been on an unprotected strike for nearly five weeks. One person died when violence broke out between the strikers, who are members of the National Union of Mineworkers, and security guards.
Some of the demands of the strikers, who work for Good Hope Construction (GHC), are
provision of personal protective equipment
an end to the alleged hiring of gangsters
an end to layoffs that don’t follow procedure and
payment of R1.4 million of workers’ pension money to the Building and Industrial Development Council, the bargaining council that administers the workers’ pensions.
The workers picket at Stock Road train station in Philippi East every morning.
Last Thursday violence erupted when about 100 workers marched to a work site in the Kraaifontein Scottsdene area. Striking worker Melikhaya Pisana was stabbed to death allegedly by guards at the site. Workers believe the guards are gangsters hired by the employer to protect the site.
Pisana leaves his wife and two children aged ten and six.
His cousin Sithembiso Ginyigazi told GroundUp that Pisana, who worked as a plumber, was the only earner in the family. He said that Pisana’s employer had not visited the family since his death.
SAPS spokesperson Frederick van Wyk said at about 10:45am on Thursday the police were informed about the strike. “Protesters came from Eikendal Railway station and they were on their way to the Scottsdene construction site. They stopped at Kraaifontein SAPS and they were aised not proceed to the construction site. However they continued to the Scottsdene construction site,” said Van Wyk.
He said the security guards at the construction site in Scottsdene “allegedly chased the protesters with paintballs, spades and pangas”. He said that at “about 11:27am” on the corner of Botfontein and Riebeeck roads, “a 36 year old male was found fatally wounded. At this stage it is not clear as to how the deceased sustained injuries.”
Van Wyk said police were investigating cases of murder and a breach of the Gatherings Act. No arrests had been made.
There have been accusations and counter-accusations between NUM and GHC management.
NUM regional organiser Benson Ngqentsu said GHC management had hired “gangsters” from Manenberg to intimidate union members. He said that on Thursday gangsters were transported from Manenberg to Kraaifontein to intimidate striking workers who were picketing peacefully. “Our members were approached by a group of the so-called security guards who had pangas, knives, petrol bombs. They chased them. The deceased was stabbed in the back,” said Ngqentsu.
But GHC management denies this, saying NUM members have been intimidating employees who are not part of the strike. GHC director Raziek Rajah said NUM was giving him too much credit. “Imagine hiring gangsters to look after 14 sites in different areas. I must be a leader of a big gang that no one knows in the Western Cape,” he said.
He accused NUM of causing R15 million damage to property and of kidnapping 12 workers and locking them in a shack in Philippi. Ngqentsu denies this.
“NUM have posted on social networks that we are hiring gangsters to look after our sites and I’m taking legal action against them. I already had a meeting with the provincial government explaining myself. I even showed the registration number of the security company we hired,” Rajah said.
In response to questions about the money owed to the bargaining council, Rajah described a complicated dispute between the union and the company about what is owed, but said his company would abide by any decision the bargaining council takes. He also said he was concerned that the strike has been turned into a racial issue because only coloured employees are now working.
Rajah said that he tried to get the police to stop last Thursday’s march but, he claims the police said it was not their duty to do so. “Unfortunately a person lost his life and no one knows what really happened,” he said.
Rajah said GHC had asked NUM members to come back to work.
NUM regional coordinator in the Western Cape Patrick Hlengisa told GroundUp that some workers were transported to hospital on Thursday following the attack in Scottsdene. “Our members’ demands are very simple: they want protective gear at work and the money that has been deducted from their salaries for pension funds to be paid to the bargaining council,” he said.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for the MEC for Education, said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) was aware of the strike and workers’ demands. She said the department had heard rumours about the striking workers’ claims but had seen nothing official. “This is a contractual issue between GHC and the workers,” she said.
She said that Good Hope Construction was not contracted directly by the WCED, but by the Public Works Department.
Hlengisa said NUM would march to GHC in Parow on Wednesday to reiterate their demands and the march would continue to the Bargaining Council offices where the strikers would demand that the council force GHC to pay over the workers’ pension money.
On Thursday NUM would march to the provincial parliament to ask Premier Helen Zille to intervene, he said.
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Source : GroundUp