Staff at Sekunjalo Independent Media (formerly Independent News and Media South Africa) have declared a dispute with management over 2013/2014 “wage improvement levels”. They are also disappointed at the slow pace of instituting the 10% staff share scheme in SIM that was part of the Sekunjalo Independent Media consortium’s bid to buy the group back from its Irish parent company.
The Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) and the South African Typographical Union (SATU), which together represent over half the staff at Sekunjalo Independent Media, said they have referred the dispute to the Printing, Newspapers and Packaging Industries (PNPI) statutory council for mediation.
“Workers have unanimously rejected the below CPI offer made by SIM management and will now have to rely on the urgent and necessary intervention by the PNPI to avoid possible industrial action,” the unions said in a statement. But, they added, workers have “no appetite” for industrial action and remain loyal and committed to “growing the brand, patronage, revenue, industry and professional credibility of SIM”.
They said it was the “collective view” of workers that improvements to working and employment conditions are absolutely necessary “after years of effective servitude to foreign shareholders”.
Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of MWASA, told The Media Online, “Failure to devise any amicable resolution would have serious consequences. MWASA however does not take industrial action lightly but as consideration of last resort”.
Several attempts to reach Independent chief executive officer, Tony Howard, failed to elicit a response to our questions. However, Howard earlier told Sapa there was an “opportunity for more pay talks between Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) and three trade unions”.
He said SIM was aware of the dispute and that management had “noted” the concerns of the unions and their members and that it was “premature for us to make any further statements, as we do see an opportunity for further constructive dialogue between the parties to resolve the issue”.
Guwani, however, says it was of concern that the company’s chief negotiator maintained they had reached the end of their tether “at the point they made their ‘final-final offer’ but Tony Howard, the CEO, communicates a different proposition”.
Gumani said that beyond the 2013/14 round of negotiations, MWASA hoped for “an engagement with INM to review the wage negotiations framework. A new model may be necessitated by changes in the environment”.
“Outstanding as well is the question of the form and nature of the ‘special purpose vehicle’ to house the employee’ 10% stake promised by the new proprietors Sekunjalo. We will treat this as a separate matter however,” he said.
The change in ownership and the promise of a 10% staff stake have been largely welcomed as an industry game-changer. But unions said the continued delay in the “formalisation of engagements meant to determine the nature and format of the staff-share in the company has however disappointed”.
The PNPI hearing is due to take place on 22 November at Independent Newspapers’ Sauer Street premises.