VICTORY FOR SIMUNYE WORKERS FORUM

by Aug 11, 2023All Articles, Amandla 88

Amandla! Interview with Vuyelwa Magidela, member of the Simunye Standing Committee

Amandla!: Simunye Workers Forum is an independent organization of workers based in Germiston. You recently won a victory in the Labour Court. Can you tell us about that victory?

They are sellouts, the unions that we have. They don’t care about our mandate, or what we want as workers. They end up being friendly with the employer. It’s that which makes the trade unions weak.

Vuyelwa Magidela: We wanted to register as a trade union, because we wanted to get all the rights that the unions have. It wasn’t our choice to turn the forum to be a union, but at the moment our organisers are not allowed in our workplaces. So that’s the main reason that made us decide to register as a trade union. And then, when we went to register, the registrar didn’t want to register us. He gave us a runaround until we took him to the Labour Court. There we got a victory; we won the case. And the registrar has been given 14 days to register us. So we are waiting for our certificate. That was the greatest victory.

A!: So what is the significance of this result for you? What is the benefit for Simunye now of this registration?

VM: Let’s say, we need Simunye to negotiate our wages. Let’s say we want to have a meeting inside our workplaces. Simunye can come now. And until now, when we have a case in CCMA, they say you are not allowed; you are a third party. Then you have to wait outside, and we have to speak for ourselves as workers. The organiser can’t help. Now, because we’ve won everything, they will be allowed to be part of the case in the CCMA.

A!: Simunye has been in existence since 2014. Why is it necessary? What’s wrong with the existing trade unions? Why do workers need Simunye?

VM: It’s because they are sellouts, the unions that we have. They don’t care about our mandate, what we want as workers. They end up being friendly with the employer. It’s that which makes the trade unions weak. The employees are the ones that are paying the trade unions. But the trade unions tend to be friendly with the employer, our enemy. We need someone to defend the workers, not someone to be friendly with the bosses.

Amandla!: In your case, Were you ever a member of a trade union?

VM: Firstly, when we were under a labour broker in my workplace, there was a union. They said we should join the union so that it can help us. So we joined. But we never received any help. The employer did as they pleased. They changed everything in the workplace, while the union was there. Even now, there are two unions in my workplace. But the employer is taking our transport away. We got the transport because of doing three shifts. And we can’t stand as the workers with one voice to say no. Because the employer already negotiated with the union.

Even the permanent workers are crying about the union because the shop stewards are sellouts.

Amandla!: What is the difference between Simunye and a traditional South African trade union?

VM: We don’t have shop stewards, we have work representatives. Our constitution says we can select or exchange them at any time. We don’t need an AGM to exchange them. We can decide that this week, because this comrade went to speak on our behalf, now we’ll use that comrade instead, because we don’t want them to have a relationship with the employer.

And we don’t have office bearers. We have a voluntary Standing Committee. The purpose of the Standing Committee is to organise the work and also to get a mandate from the Forum. The Standing Committee doesn’t suggest anything. The Forum will suggest what they want from the Standing Committee. And the standing committee will make sure that what the forum has suggested has been done correctly.

We don’t have a President. And we are paying subscriptions of R150 for the whole year, or R12.50 for every month.

Amandla!: Why don’t you want office bearers?

VM: Because they tend to fight to become a president or someone, so they can get money. They all want to lay their hands on that money. That’s what makes the unions weak. They don’t care about the workers.

Amandla!: How is your Standing Committee chosen? And how long does it last for?

VM: The standing committee will be there for a year. In the AGM we will select other comrades. We have an AGM on 22nd July, and we will select new comrades, another group, which will have 10 to 12 members. And at any time we can dissolve that group and select other new members to be part of the Standing Committee. And in our Constitution, the majority of members of the standing committee must be women.

We are giving more privilege to the women to take part because the women have been less privileged. We’ve seen that the most dominated group in this society are women. And we don’t want that to happen in Simunye. We want these women to have the space; it should not all the time be the men that are the ones that are supposed to be in the front line, but our women comrades also must take the part.

Amandla!: Can unemployed people be members of Simunye?

VM: Yes, they are. They even can be members of the Standing Committee as well. We have got comrades that are not working. We organise the employed comrades and unemployed comrades, even our brothers and sisters that are staying in Zimbabwe, but are here in South Africa. All the Africans, Simunye has got a place for them. We organise everyone because these brothers and sisters tend to be victims when it comes to South Africa. These bosses will employ them just to give them less salary because they know that they don’t know the constitution of South Africa.

Africa is our country, for all of us. In Simunye, these are our brothers and sisters. We don’t want them to be exploited at work. And we also want them to gain the rights that we have. Because we are all in the same continent. We are not xenophobic. Everyone is welcome to Simunye. And we can see that these people are running away from outside South Africa to come to South Africa, just to get jobs and everything, because of the situation they are facing in other countries. So we want them to be welcomed in this country. We also want to organize most of them.

Amandla!: And in fact, it was in support of workers like that, if I’m not mistaken, that there was a recent incident where you marched and then were shot at. I wanted to ask how are the comrades who were shot and what happened there.

All the Africans, Simunye has got a place for them. We organise everyone because these brothers and sisters tend to be victims when it comes to South Africa. These bosses will employ them just to give them less salary because they know that they don’t know the constitution of South Africa. We also want to organize most of them.

VM: These workers came to Simunye for the first time to report the employer and the exploitation that they are facing in their workplace. They were fired without any notice. That’s because these comrades stood up to the employer. And just because they are from Lesotho, that’s why the employer took this advantage. Just because these comrades complained, they said you don’t have papers, you are not supposed to be working here, whereas everyone who is working here in this Golden Bakery doesn’t have papers.

The Simunye comrades decided to go to the bakery to speak to the boss. So we ended the meeting and attended to this problem. We went to the Golden Bakery where they worked. Five comrades were selected to speak to the boss. They said the boss is not around. You can stand, but don’t block the way because we want the customers to come in. We agreed. We were standing aside to let the customers come in and there were shots that injured four comrades. In fact, the fourth comrade was a bystander. But we took him as our responsibility and took him as well to hospital. And the comrades were badly injured.

Amandla!: Trade unions in general tend to concentrate on the issues that affect people in the workplace. But those same people in the workplace also live in communities. And unions don’t tend to concern themselves with that. Is it the same with Simunye, that your focus is just on workplace issues?

VM: No, we focus on the community as well. In our meetings, the first part of the agenda will be problems that we are facing in the workplace and also in the community. During the pandemic, there were comrades that used to go into communities to help others, even to go to help them to apply for the R350. Even in the office now, we’ve got a space where, if you want to register or find a school for your kids, you can go and use the laptop or the computer in the office. So we are much more involved in the community.

Regrettably, since we conducted this interview, the Registrar has given notice that he intends to take this decision on review. This is despite the very clear and well-argued judgment from the CCMA. The question we ask ourselves is: who does he think he is protecting by doing this?

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