News24 reported that National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has accused steel manufacturer Macsteel of using the pandemic as an excuse to boost profit margins after retrenching 99 workers. The call came as the union embarked on countrywide picketing at all Macsteel plants in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Kwa Zulu Natal on Monday morning. National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa general secretary Mr Irvin Jim said the union is demanding all retrenched employees should be reinstated with immediate effect. Mr Jim said "Our members are protesting against the fact that Macsteel has retrenched 99 employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our only demand is that all 99 employees who were forcefully retrenched by Macsteel must be reinstated immediately, under the same conditions they had before being retrenched."
He added "We are convinced that Macsteel is using the pandemic to boost their profit margins. They have previously retrenched workers and the savings they made from job cuts were used to pay managers and executives generous bonuses and packages. This is what has angered our members into embarking on this just strike, they are doing it in defence of jobs and the right to work."
Macsteel CEO Mr Mike Benfield rejected the union's demands, saying that Macsteel could not afford to hire back the retrenched workers. He said “Our business models have changed, we are not going to compromise on these. We need to focus on the future to protect the jobs that remain. Those that remain employed and committed to the future of Macsteel will be fairly treated."
Benfield also refuted the allegations that the company was retrenching workers to boost its profit margin. There is absolutely no substance to this allegation. Macsteel is faced with a very depressed steel sector and broader South African economy prior to Covid-19, which is now further exacerbated by the pandemic. Our only objective is to make the company sustainable in very tough trading conditions and our priority is to preserve the jobs that remain.”