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Neasa lockout to continue 'despite threats'

Sapa and staff reporter

Neasa has said it will continue its constitutionally protected lockout of workers following the end of the wider strike in the metals sector.

Neasa refused to sign the offer, saying it had been sidelined in the negotiation process facilitated by the labour department.

The National Employers’ Association of South Africa’s (Neasa’s) members will continue their lockout of workers who participated in the recent metal industry protest, despite threats, it said on Thursday.

The association was adamant the decision by its members to lockout workers would stand, despite threats from both the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and union federation Cosatu, spokesperson Sya van der Walt-Potgieter said in a statement.

She said Cosatu in the Western Cape had threatened to close down companies participating in the lockout, and Numsa had threatened to take Neasa to court if it did not suspend the lockout of its members.

Van der Walt-Potgieter said the lockout was legal and enjoyed the same constitutional protection as the right to strike.

Neasa chief executive Gerhard Papenfus said companies in the metals industry had endured a violent four-week strike. Employees had been prevented from working through violence and intimidation.

“There were instances where employees were dragged out of offices and assaulted,” he said, adding that Numsa stood for a one-sided form of democracy.

“They are very quick to claim the benefits of their version of democracy and are very quick to point out any so-called undemocratic behaviour.”

‘Open up the books’
When he announced the end of the strike on Tuesday, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said employers represented by Neasa, who had long claimed they could not afford more than an 8% increase, were expected to implement the agreement. “Failure to do so would be violating this commitment by employers,” Jim said, adding that where companies claim they can’t afford the increases, they must apply for exemption and “open up the books”.

Papenfus said the differences would not be resolved through threats and legal action, but through appropriate channels.

On Tuesday, six unions in the metals and engineering sector signed a wage deal with most employers. 

At the time Jim said: “We are pleased to inform the public and country at large that the latest offer is a product of sweat and bitter struggles by our toiling workers for a living wage. It was a product of a four-week-long resolute battle to do away with colonial apartheid wage dispensation in the engineering metals sector.” 

Jim said the victory was massive given the “pittance offer at the point of deadlock”. At the start of the week, Jim, announced that the strike that had begun on July 1 was over, and urged all members to return to work on Tuesday.

Last week, Numsa had accused employers in the metals and engineering sector of being reckless and destructive in some of their latest demands put to the largest union.

Neasa refused to sign the offer, saying it had been sidelined in the negotiation process facilitated by the labour department.

As a result, Neasa, which had 22 members and employed about 70 000 workers, continued its lockout.

8% to 10% increase
Over 200 000 Numsa members in the metal and engineering sector downed tools on July 1, demanding a salary increase of 12%, down from their pre-strike demand of 15%. They then revised their demand to 10%.

They also demanded a R1 000 housing allowance and a total ban on labour brokers. In terms of the new wage deal, workers would get increases of between 8% and 10%, depending on whether they were high or low earners.

Shortly before Numsa’s Tuesday announcement, minority trade union Solidarity, which had not embarked on a strike but was involved in negotiations, also announced it would accept the bargaining council’s offer. – Sapa, with additional reporting by staff reporter

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