Numsa members embark on ‘indefinite strike action’

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (Numsa’s) 220 000 members in the metals and engineering sector intend to strike from July 1. But government says it will provide support to the industry to ensure the industrial action does not go ahead.  

Cosatu’s largest union, which has about 330 000 members, will strike in the sector from Tuesday, according to deputy general secretary Karl Cloete. “The national executive committee has agreed to the decision from our members to embark on an indefinite strike action beginning on July 1,” he said on Thursday. 

The union’s demands include a 12% wage increase, lowered from an initial demand for 15%, in a one-year bargaining agreement. In a press release put out by the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) on Wednesday, its chief executive Kaizer Nyatsumba said the organisation “deeply regrets the fact that all its concerted efforts to avoid a strike in the ailing sector have come to naught”.

Negotiations in the metals and engineering sector started three months ago and concluded on Wednesday without a settlement. However, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi said on Thursday that the metals and engineering sector will receive government support. 

“The employers and labour movement must be able to resolve the negotiations speedily so as to avoid such problems,” she said. “On the issue of Numsa, definitely this is the call that we are making and we are going to support all the affected parties to make sure that the strike doesn’t take place.” 

‘Reasonable’ offer
Seifsa said the employers tabled a “reasonable” three-year wage settlement offer last week in an effort to bring a successful conclusion to the negotiations. “The offer included a 7% all-inclusive, cost-of-employment increase in 2014 and a CPI + 0% increase in 2015 and 2016 respectively for Rate A and an 8% all-inclusive, cost-of-employment increase in 2014 and a CPI + 1% increase in 2015 and 2016 respectively for Rate H,” the organisation said. 

Rate A pertains to the highest paid employees while Rate H pertains to the lowest paid. Nyatsumba said the South African economy had been seriously under performing in recent years and it cannot afford a strike in the metals and engineering sector.  

“I plead that we work together to preserve jobs and to grow the metals and engineering sector in South Africa.” A five-month long  platinum-sector strike concluded with a wage deal on Tuesday and the lost production sent South Africa’s economic growth for the first quarter of 2014 into negative territory. 

On the recent downgrading of the country’s credit ratings by agencies Standard and Poor’s and Fitch, Muthambi said Cabinet “was alive to the growth challenges” facing the country. “Government has prioritised the accelerated implementation of the National Development Plan, with reforms that are aimed at unlocking South Africa’s growth potential.” 

Further, it intended improving the regulatory environment, reducing skills shortages, and accelerating its infrastructure investment programme as part of removing obstacles to growth. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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