The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) on Tuesday said it anticipates tough wage talks ahead of its first round of negotiations on Thursday with the Steel Engineering Industry Federation of South Africa.
The parties will lock horns in negotiations to determine wages and working conditions of 310 000 workers employed in the engineering and steel industry.
Numsa spokesperson Dumisa Ntuli said negotiations are taking place within economic conditions that are negative for workers.
“In terms of the macro-economic conditions, the economy has experienced massive job losses, lower inflation and widening income inequality between executive directors and workers,” Ntuli said.
He added that at this year’s negotiations, employers must expect hard and serious bargaining, taking into cognisance that poverty, increasing food inflation, increases in the petrol price, rising levels of retrenchments and unemployment continue to slash the wages of workers in the engineering and steel industry.
The union vowed that it will not settle for a lower increase because of government inflation-targeting policy.
“Low inflation figures do not improve the economic standard of workers. Such low levels of inflation make wage negotiations difficult,” Numsa argued.
“There have been other workplace developments that have put workers on the defensive. Workers’ real earnings have fallen by 10% due to the reduction in the inflation rate in the last 10 months. While new technology may offer the potential of benefits such as improved productivity and better working conditions, such benefits are meaningless unless shared by workers and society at large,” Ntuli contended.
The union said there is a persistent belief that the introduction of new technology in the metal industries will produce higher wages and better benefits based on improved productivity, lower costs and more refined skills.
However, the union said the truth is that in most cases, workers end up either losing their jobs or having their opportunities for training and career advancement greatly reduced.
Numsa said most of the engineering and steel companies have introduced short-term contract work, outsourcing, sub-contracting and, in particular, labour brokers into the workplace.
The union said it will demand that wage increases be 12% for the lowest grade and 11% for the highest grade.
Numsa will also demand that the wage parameters be set at 6% to 10% for the second year and a two-year wage agreement be established in the engineering and motor sectors.
On employment security, the union demands that notice pay be four weeks and that severance pay be four weeks for every completed year of service per worker.
Furthermore, the benefits pertaining to this severance pay should be extended to limited-duration contract workers.
Regarding these workers, the union said staggered termination should be treated as unbroken service for the purposes of severance pay. — I-Net Bridge