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 Annual Report 2013



1. Introduction

The CWAO was launched in October, 2011. It is located in Germiston, on the East Rand, close to the large dormitory townships of Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza. It is easily accessible to other townships like Tembisa and is surrounded by large squatter camps like Primrose, Makhause, Marathon, Rasta and Dukhatole.

 The office comprises a staff of 3, one man and two women, and has a management committee of 4. The organization gives free advice to workers and in 2013 was sustained by funding from Hivos, with a contribution also from Solidar Switzerland.

 The CWAO uses a central case management system to record all cases. The statistics in this report are drawn mainly from its database. The case management system was developed by the National Alliance for the Development of Community Based Advice Offices (NADCAO) and is made available for free to advice offices. In 2012 the CWAO, in collaboration with NADCAO, undertook a major revision of the database through a grant for this purpose from the Dutch trade union federation, FNV. The revision made possible the more extensive statistics in the report.

 2. CWAO in 2013

Cases and issues

The advice office had 664 new cases in 2013, directly affecting a total of roughly 3 200 workers[1]. Carried over cases from 2012 raise this figure to around 4 000, partly because of 2 cases involving 729 workers. This is a sizeable increase in the 270 cases for 2012 (including 3 months at the end of 2011). Unfair dismissals constitute over 70% of the casework, followed by non-registration for UIF, and wage-related problems such as no payslips, underpayment of wages or the non-payment of overtime. Lesser problems include issues such as Workmen’s Compensation claims.

 Most cases are brought on an individual basis. However, the office handles cases with as many as 600 workers. Interestingly, most of the large cases involve workers belonging to trade unions, ranging from Numsa, Samwu, Saccawu and Nehawu, through to independents like Giwusa. Most workers supported by the advice office are in fact union members, rather than unorganized casual or labour broker workers.

 Sixty-six percent of cases are brought by men, only 34 % by women. The sectors with some of the worst labour practices are Private Security and Wholesale & Retail. However, there is a generalized offensive on workers around basic rights spread across sectors, often involving major companies. The country’s largest labour broker, Capacity, a subsidiary of a publicly listed company, Adcorp, routinely violates bargaining council agreements on basic issues such as weekly wages, and has more recently introduced its own financial services, illegally forcing workers to accept wages paid into accounts that the company effectively derives income from through interest on retained earnings of workers. The same company equally routinely ignores CCMA awards for its dismissed workers to be compensated or reinstated.

 Much of this offensive, and the on-going spread of the use of casual, contract and labour broking labour reflect the decline of the traditional trade union movement.

 Workers from the continent make up less than 5% of those who seek support from the advice office. Zimbabwean workers use the office most, perhaps for reasons of language and a marginally better legal status.

 Support and results

The advice office makes an average of 5 follow up phone calls per case, from the time a case has been opened, and undertakes an average of 8 actions per case. In the cases involving large numbers of workers, the average number of actions easily exceeds 30, including referrals, follow up phone calls, consultation meetings, securing legal support and briefing lawyers.

 The CWAO has retained a success rate of over 80% in the cases it handles. While this rate of success is high, it is also misleading, in that workers’ problems often start once they’ve won a CCMA or bargaining council award. This is due to these  old institutions no longer work for workers, both permanents and the new kinds of workers. Bosses simply ignore these institutions and their awards or have the awards reviewed or rescinded, often without the knowledge of the workers. Many workers do not have either the knowledge or financial means to pursue their awards through the labour court, resulting in a large number of awards won by workers going unenforced.

 3. New developments in 2013

Free telephonic advice

Of the total of 664 new cases handled in 2013, 220 were drop in cases, where workers come to the office. This is a relatively low figure, and in order to address it, and simultaneously the relatively low number of women bringing cases, the advice office in May activated its Please Call Me (PCM) system.

 The PCM allows workers to get free telephonic advice, at a time convenient to them.[2] Between May and early December 444 calls were received. This was a big increase in case numbers. However, the advice office is mindful that the extent of telephonic support is not nearly equivalent to that offered through drop in support. Critically, from a gender point of view and contrary to expectations, even fewer women have used the PCM system. Of the 444 calls received, only 66 came from women. This is a lower percentage than is the case with the drop in gender breakdown.

 The geographic spread of workers using the services of the CWAO, while always relatively broad, has increased significantly as a result of the PCM, including drop in visits, since a proportion of PCMs convert into visits to the office, depending on the nature of the problem workers face. A larger number of workers from the south of Johannesburg, incorporating townships like Soweto, now use its services.

 Workplace visits

The PCM system has led to a further new development. In cases where workers have had problems that required meetings but they themselves have been unable to visit the office – it is not unusual for Retail sector workers to work Sunday to Sunday – the CWAO has now taken to workplace visits at times designated by the workers. Visits have involved workers from Pick ‘n Pay, Fruit & Veg, Supercare, private security, cleaning and laundry workers. In some cases the number of workers have been small (3), while others, such as the laundry workers, have involved over 200 workers.

 Outreach in industrial areas

A further innovation has been the use of ‘mobile tables’ in industrial areas. This initiative arose out of the commitment to reach more workers but also out of a political understanding that a new approach to organizing was necessary. This innovation was not carried out as vigorously as hoped, as it required access to a car big enough to carry tables, chairs, a PA system, banners and so on, which was not always available, mainly because the driver (me) was not always available. The two experiments carried out did not have great success but this was due mainly to the newness of the initiative and some basic mistakes on the part of the CWAO, like setting up in the wrong place.

 Support to other advice offices

The CWAO conducted 2 national workshops involving 82 advice office workers on how to use the 2 resources on worker rights it has produced for use by advice offices, a reference book and a CD containing all agreements, sectoral determinations, official forms, addresses and so on.

 All the latest bargaining council agreements and sectoral determinations are uploaded onto the CWAO website on an on-going basis, making it the only organization to offer such a service to advice offices, trade unions and other worker support organisations.

 Since the training and the distribution of the book and CD 6 advice offices now use the CWAO as a super advice office, requesting support with specific cases, while 1 other requested 50 copies of the farm work sectoral determination and discussion papers on the farm worker strike.

 Several have enquired about training of staff but this has not yet materialized.

The advice office participated in the community outreach programme of Setsi sa Mosadi, the women’s advice office run by Khanya College.

 Education & Training

Four workshops were conducted with a total of 84 Retail and Contract Cleaning workers on their rights, in addition to the 2 conducted for the advice offices.

 The CWAO was invited to appear on community radio on 5 occasions, but could manage only 3, for Radio 786 and ekfm103.6.

 Organising farm workers

The CWAO was invited to share its views on organizing and bargaining for farm workers by both the Surplus People Project (SPP) and the Southern Cape Land Committee (SCLC). It has since been part of a process of refining the ideas that emerged out of these discussions.

 4. Support to the Solidarity Committee (SC)

The SC held a total of 78 meetings in 2013, involving 1325 workers, of whom 878 were men and 447 women.

 It undertook 26 marches, of which 3 were to the Ekurhuleni municipality and 23 to companies. The companies involved were Simba, Everite, Handquip, Gyproc, Chainpack and Document Warehouse. A total of 12 marches were held to Handquip alone, and resulted in over 130 dismissed workers being offered new work contracts. The 63 dismissed Gyproc workers were subsequently reinstated by the company, largely but not exclusively through the sustained campaign of the SC.

 The CWAO provided the SC with the necessary resources for its meetings and marches, including a meeting venue, transport money for meetings and marches, as well as resources for the production of posters, placards and memoranda.

 5. Research visits

The CWAO received international research visits from academics from Sweden, Germany, Canada and the USA, including Janice Fine, who has extensively researched and written on the 214 worker advice offices in the USA, known as worker centres. The advice office was also visited and interviewed by 3 local researchers.

 6. Work in 2014

The work of CWAO in 2014 will revolve around the following elements:

·      Drop in advice

·      Free telephonic advice through the PCM, which will go national through advertising via Vodacom’s PCM service

·      Workplace visits based on drop in and PCM contacts

·      Mobile advice through industrial area and community visits with a fully fitted out vehicle, targeting the squatter camps around Germiston from the community outreach side

·      A research project into ways of encouraging women workers to use the services of the advice office[3]

·      Support to other advice offices nationally, in the form of on-going production of the reference book and CD, training on how to use these two resources, updates of all bargaining council agreements and new sectoral determinations on the CWAO website, and telephonic advice

·      Support to the Solidarity Committee

·      Education and training to workers, including the regular use of community radio

·      On-going engagement around organizing and bargaining strategies for farm workers with SPP, SCLC and related organisations, and Completion of a film on precarious workers

[1] Workers do not always know the exact number of workers in their workplace, and generally give estimates.

[2] Workers send a Please Call Me cellphone text message to 072 799 5318. They get an automatic reply and their call is logged on the advice office computers. The advice office then returns their calls in the course of the next 48 hours.

[3] The preparatory work for the research project revealed that neither the Department of Labour nor the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) do a gender breakdown of their users. The CCMA is now in the process of rectifying this. The results of the CWAO research will be shared with both institutions, and with the Women’s Movement in the Community Advice Offices (Wicao).

 Download Related Document: 2013 report.docx

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