In a protracted collective dispute over wage increases and cash benefits, ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) tried to thwart workers’ efforts to organise collective action. The company applied to the essential services committee (ESC) to declare the manufacturing, supply and distribution of steel as an essential service, which would qualify strikes as unprotected and would leave workers facing dismissals. Fortunately, the committee ruled otherwise, and in favour of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).
Earlier in 2022, AMSA had won an urgent temporary interdiction which sought to ban workers who operated coke batteries or blast furnaces, and those in some sections of steel production, from joining the strike, arguing that they were part of essential services. The Labour Court dismissed the interdiction to stop the strike at AMSA, and the NUMSA resumed the strike.
By applying to the ESC, AMSA hoped to delay the strike for six days to allow the company to shut down its two blast furnaces. The ESC found that although there were safety risks in the operations of blast furnaces and coke batteries if not shut down in a controlled and well-managed manner, the risks were not sufficient to allow such infringement on workers’ rights.