Sun, 26 Sep 2021

  • The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa slammed the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's decision to declare a deadlock in wage talks.
  • Numsa wants a one-year deal offering a 15% increase across the board, while the federation made a three-year offer of 4.4% plus CPI in the first year.
  • Seifsa operations director Lucio Trentini said the federation's offer sought to secure the recovery and growth of the metal and engineering sector.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) slammed the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's (Numsa) decision to register a deadlock in the metals and engineering industry wage talks.

At the ongoing industry wage negotiations which it oversees, Seifsa offered a 4.4% plus CPI-related increase across the board for the first year, CPI plus 0.5% in the second year and CPI plus 1% in the third year.

Numsa has a number of demands for employers, including a 15% across-the-board increase in a one-year agreement, and that all of its outstanding issues be concluded within six months, in line with managing committee agreements.

Seifsa is one of multiple federations in the steel and engineering industries and represents 18 affiliated employer organisations at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council with other breakaway federations like the National Employers Association of South Africa.

Seifsa operations director Lucio Trentini said in a statement that the federation's offer sought to secure the survival, recovery and growth of the metal and engineering sector, following the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.

"On the back of what unfolded over the past two weeks, business confidence generally took a huge knock, and it is expected that investors and business owners will be even more reluctant to reinvest in the sector," said Trentini.

Trentini said instigators and participants of the looting two weeks ago have set the industry back in dealing with the survival and recovery, with initial estimates putting the damage at 0.4% to 0.85 of GDP or about R50 billion.

"Outside of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, factories across the industry have been significantly affected by supply chains, logistics, rail and port disruptions and the knock-on effects will be felt across the sector for quite some time and continues to negatively impact business confidence," Trentini said.

Trentini thanked Solidarity, Uasa, the Metal and Electrical Workers' Union of South Africa and the South African Equity Workers Association for their continued participation in the wage discussions.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said one of the conditions that the union rejected from Seifsa was a "special dispensation" which she said compelled Numsa to agree with the "down-varying of the basic conditions of employment to accommodate employers".

"Our members complain about the fact that there is no uniformity in the application of the minimum rate already and this has resulted in a system where some workers are paid the rate in full, while others are exploited and paid far less than they are entitled to.

"In some cases, employers pay below the national minimum wage rate of R21 per hour. Seifsa claims these companies cannot afford to pay the rate in full; however, we believe that there are avenues to cater for this through the exemptions process," Hlubi-Majola said.

Hlubi-Majola said a blanket dispensation would disadvantage workers in engineering as it would justify the "super exploitation" of workers, which she said was currently rife in the sector.

"In all likelihood employers who pay more, will want to reduce the rate because other companies are being allowed to do so. This would mean that workers lose all the gains and benefits which they fought to secure over the years," said Hlubi Majola.

"Workers in the engineering sector sacrificed their increase during the pandemic for the benefit of the sector, and as a result of their sacrifices, the employers are richer, but our members are worse off," she said.

She said Numsa was planning a media conference soon to outline the way forward and that the union remained open to dialogue and engagement with employers.

However, she said, if the discussions continue on their current path and parties were unable to resolve the impasse, "then unfortunately strike action is inevitable".

Source: News24

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