A commissioner of the CCMA will today [Monday] rule whether employees of Independent Media can take protected industrial action, after two unions declared a dispute with the company 10 days ago.
A Statutory Council meeting of the CCMA has been sitting at The Star newspaper’s office in Johannesburg as the company and employees, represented by SATU and Mwasa, have tried to reach agreement on both annual bonuses and 2014 salary increases.
When the dispute was declared on 28 November, the unions were demanding 10% across-the-board increases and a 100% year-end bonus, while the company was offering 1% and 30%. Since then the employees have dropped their demands to 6% plus 100% bonus, while Independent Media is now offering 3.75% plus 65%.
“As with negotiations, various options are tabled, considered, discussed and re-negotiated by participating parties. This is currently the situation,” the group’s executive for branding, marketing and communication, Lutfia Vayej, confirmed to The Media Online.
Vayej said Independent Media hoped to settle the matter amicably. “Of course, negotiations are conducted in order to reach an amicable solution. Our philosophy is to keep our employees employed and negotiate a fair and reasonable salary increase and bonus within a tough market environment affecting all media companies both in our country and the rest of the world. Industrial action is therefore not beneficial to both parties. The Statutory Council is currently conciliating the matter,” she said.
Vayej said the newspaper group respects the rights of employees to “participate in a collective bargaining process and to join unions. This is part of a healthy democracy,” she said.
Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of the Media Workers Union of South Africa (Mwasa) confirmed with The Media Online that he had flown to Cape Town with the intention of meeting owner Dr Iqbal Survé this afternoon (Monday).
“I am waiting for a final briefing from our negotiators on the way forward,” he said in an SMS. “We believe any form of industrial action will be a consideration of last resort,” he said, adding that Survé was only returning from a trip to China on Monday afternoon.
President Jacob Zuma visited China last week accompanied by senior government officials and member of the business community. Survé is a member of the Brics business council.
Staffers involved in the negotiation process said that during two earlier sessions, Independent Media offered “nothing” and then “very little” leading to growing anger among many staff across the company. Combined union membership of SATU and Mwasa across Independent countrywide has jumped to over 60%, from just 40% just six weeks ago, as employee anger grows over the negotiations, members of the unions claim.
“It is important to note that, of all the large media companies in South Africa, such as Media24 and Times Media Group, Independent Media is the only media company that has not had substantial retrenchments in the past year,” Vayej said. “We also note that Times Media Group recently announced a freeze in salary increases, which has gone largely unnoticed in the media.”
Times Media Group froze salary increases to staff members earning more than R700 000 a year, Grubstreet reported, adding that retrenchments were expected to take place countrywide at the Group.
Today, if she thinks there is no prospect of a resolution, the commissioner can issue a certificate to say that the parties could not agree, opening the way for protected industrial action. This protects union members from being fired for taking part.
“She will either issue the certificate that says the parties are too far apart, or she won’t. If she does we will consider our next move,” said a source close to the negotiations. “This could include anything from pickets, to work to rule to strikes. Or nothing…”
Survé recently told staff during a well-attended meeting that the company was putting “job security” on the table and that they did not want to award big bonuses and increases and then “have to retrench people three months later”.
At one stage during the negotiations Independent offered a 100% bonus with a 10% across-the-board cut in salaries. “Even the commissioner was taken aback and told them she found that “a bit hard to swallow”, someone who was present said.
“This really pissed people off, they were offended by that offer,” said a union member.
“The interesting thing is that this membership is across disciplines and departments: newsroom, subs, distribution, and classifieds,” a senior Indy staffer in Cape Town said. “If it comes to a strike it could cause total chaos. Maybe they’ll bring out the paper, but who’s going to do all the other jobs?”
Vayej asked that Independent Media “be given the space to conduct the negotiations process without any undue scrutiny of a very legitimate process, which we all hope, will be amicably resolved”.
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