On 24 June 2016 I attended the celebration of the contribution of the Toyota Hilux and Fortuner to the South African economy, which was held at the company’s Prospecton plant. The function was attended by high level dignitaries from all spheres of government, business and labour, which indicated the import of the event.
From Toyota’s side, the presentations focused on the remarkable history of Toyota in South Africa, which began in 1961 when the prescient Dr Albert Wessels imported 10 vehicles, and today 55 years later Toyota is the market leader, and the top automotive manufacturer, supplying vehicles to the local market and exporting in excess of 50% of its production to many corners of the globe. The focus was also predicated on the contribution of Toyota to the local economy, in terms of financial investment, employment, supplier development, localisation, investment in people, and how this all comes about through policy certainty, economic fundamentals and labour stability.
The sole presentation from government’s side came from president Jacob Zuma, who in his inimitable style, confirmed government’s conscious decision to support the automotive industry, affirming that an automotive industry forms the basis of a modern economy, and reiterating government’s commitment to integrating black owned companies into the automotive supply chain. Zuma also spoke of the new spirit of collaboration between government, business and labour. What really got my intention was Zuma’s assertion that labour has come aboard and that South Africa is in a good space, and judging by the happy faces on the shop floor when we toured the factory, the Toyota employees are indeed in a good space.
The problem is that the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) does not appear to be in such a good space, and if they have come aboard they are sending conflicting signals. A recent news report says that they will enter this year’s wage negotiations demanding a 20% increase and single-year agreements. And next year, they will most will likely mount a push for the establishment of collective bargaining across value chains. Bargaining in the auto sector covers 14 000 employers and 182 000 employees, so the stakes are high.
The report adds that the union may also agitate for the removal of peace clauses in some wage agreements that allow it to pursue company-specific demands in the aftermath of wage settlements, and that Numsa is also expected to push for political engagement on the state’s industrial policy. Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete, who has covered himself previously in faecal glory with disastrous and economically damaging postal strikes, seems to have a conflicting view about what is a good space.
From my observation, it appears that Mr Cloete and his acolytes are clearly on another page than both government and business, and tragically also the employees on the ground. May I humbly suggest that political agendas are at play, and that the worker is the not so willing cannon fodder?