Still time to avert strike in metal industry – Saefa
THE SOUTH African Engineers’ and Founders’ Association (Saefa) believes that the planned strikes by trade unions within the engineering sector were not the only option available to workers.
The association said although the unions had applied for a certificate to embark on a strike, this did not necessarily mean the strike was inevitable.
Saefa executive director Gordon Angus said yesterday: “The reality is that strike action will be extremely detrimental to employees and the sector as a whole, not to mention the additional pressure that it will bring to bear on the already tenuous economic situation in the country.”
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and employers in the engineering sector are engaged in negotiations.
Numsa is demanding a 15 percent wage increase across the board based on the actual rate that a worker earns, not the minimum rate.
Employers want to increase wages in terms of the minimum rate instead of what a workers actually earns. Employers also want to implement a minimum rate of R20 an hour for new entrants to the sector, whereas the current minimum is R40.
Numsa has demanded “a two-year agreement” and “the extension of the agreement to non-parties, including employer associations such as the National Employers’ Association of South Africa and the Plastics Converters Association of South Africa that fall under the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council”.
Saefa have appointed Jonathan Goldberg, a veteran of industry-level negotiations over wages and conditions of employment, as an independent lead negotiator to represent employers in the wage negotiations.
Angus pointed to Goldberg’s appointment, at Saefa’s expense, as a clear indication that the association and the more than 400 businesses it represents have a sincere desire to reach a solution that will prevent a strike, while setting a solid and realistic foundation on which the sector could build going forward.
Employers want to implement a minimum rate of R20 an hour for new entrants to the sector.
However, he pointed out that reaching such a solution required the same commitment by labour’s representatives to act in the best interests of all parties, particularly the financial well-being of the employees they represented.
“Offers presented by employers have been summarily dismissed by unions, indicating the absence of a sincere desire to reach a sustainable solution that benefits all parties,” Angus said, “but rather a predisposition by the union towards strike action.”
He pointed in particular to Numsa’s outright rejection of a proposal for a reduced entrylevel wage for new employees in the sector as indicating that the union was unwilling to find a solution that promoted the long-term sustainability of the sector.
“Saefa and the other employer representative associations have repeatedly assured employees that the proposed lower hourly wage – initially proposed at R20 per hour, the same level as the national minimum wage – is only for new, unskilled employees in the sector,” he said. “And that this will never be passed on to existing employed, trained and experienced workers.”
In a statement on its website, Numsa said that agreeing to this proposal would make conditions of employment worse. “Numsa rejects this offer with the contempt it deserves. We warned the ANC that the national minimum wage they had proposed would have disastrous consequences, but they arrogantly ignored us.”
Angus said the unions appeared unwilling to trust that the lower entry-level wage would not be passed on to existing employees, nor that it was intended to make it financially viable for the industry to provide further work opportunities and training to more South Africans.
“I am confident that, if the parties are willing to come to the table with an open mind, and have a willingness to consider all viewpoints and concerns, a solution can be found that avoids the potentially devastating conse quences of industrial action,” Angus said. “But agreeing on that solution will require a sincere commitment by the employers and the union to set aside any other agendas they may have and negotiate with the best interests – both current and future – of the entire industry in mind.”
Numsa is demanding a 15 percent wage increase across the board based on the actual rate that a worker earns, not the minimum wage.