The metalworkers union sees the industry’s eleventh-hour bid to link an agreement to the curtailing of factory-level demands as an act of bad faith.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has described some of the latest demands by employers in the metals and engineering sector as reckless and destructive.
Speaking to journalists at a press conference called at the union’s headquarters in central Johannesburg on Thursday, Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, said demands to tailor section 37 of the main agreement by the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council could delay the end of the strike. They could even destroy the collective bargaining structure that the industry’s largest employers and unions have used for several decades, he said.
The federation representing the largest employers in the industry, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), on Tuesday announced it had “reluctantly” accepted Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant’s proposal to offer wage increases of 10% to low-level employees in the metals and engineering sector over three years.
However, Seifsa insisted that section 37 be tightened up in order to protect employers from double dipping – that “matters that would materially impact on the cost of employment would not be raised for negotiation at company level”.
The National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa), which represents small and medium enterprises in the sector, also supported this move.
‘No intention of new demands’
Jim said that instead of the union making proposals to employers, it had unilaterally made an offer and had stipulated that it would expire on Friday night.
Seifsa had previously presented the union with an ultimatum of a final offer, which was rejected on July 13.
Jim said the union has no other agenda or any intention of revisiting wage agreements once signed to make new demands, and has not given employers any reason to think it would.
“It’s a reckless approach,” he said, adding that it was this attitude by employers that had caused Numsa to intensify the strike, and that it was they who had to take responsibility for their actions.
“They want the union to contract outside of the law,” he said.
Karl Cloete, the Numsa deputy general secretary, said the press conference was called in response to the employers embarking on a “propaganda offensive”. He questioned whether the industry is indeed losing as much as employers claim, given that it was they who had placed new hurdles in the way of the wage negotiations.
“They claim to lose R300-million every day … Why then would responsible adults subject the economy to this kind of bleeding?” he asked, adding that employers are not making a political and ideological stand but are waging a full-out attack on Numsa.
Council in danger of collapse
“I think we are very close to each other; it is not Numsa delaying … Employers are not hell-bent on finding a speedy resolution to the strike,” Jim said.
The most extreme ramification of the employers’ current stance could be the total collapse of the bargaining council, he said, adding that what employers are doing is “ill-advised and misguided”.
Jim said the employers are pushing the situation towards anarchy.
But he said the union understands the pressures facing business, and raised concerns about high level of deindustrialisation in the country. The union is willing to discuss this and plan with employers.
Numsa said the union cannot speak on behalf of its members and does not know if they would accept the wage offer and conditions. It was expecting feedback from members later on Thursday afternoon and would then decide on the way forward.
Jim said the union might require another meeting with the employers, depending on the response from the union’s members.