The month-long strike in the metals and engineering sector has come to an end, with a settlement that will see increases of as much as 10% each year in a three-year wage offer to be implemented for the majority of striking workers.
Speaking from the headquarters in Johannesburg of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) on Monday evening, the union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, announced that the strike that had begun on July 1 was over, and urged all members to return to work on Tuesday.
“The settlement offer has been overwhelmingly and unanimously accepted by our members,” 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”.
Most Numsa members are in the lowest grade and will therefore receive the full 10% increase each year of the three-year agreement, while those in the high pay grades would receive lower increases.
Deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said the agreement would be officially signed off on Tuesday afternoon.
Just 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. Specifically, that employers had insisted that section 37 of the bargaining council’s main agreement be tightened up in order to protect employers from “double dipping”, saying that “matters that would materially impact on the cost of employment would not be raised for negotiation at company level”.
However, the union said on Monday that it had succeeded in negotiating a formulation of the provision that allowed for negotiations and was not disadvantageous to Numsa. “We are not going to cease to be a union because there is some form of amendment on section 37,” Jim said.
Shortly before Numsa’s 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.
The three-year salary agreement offer comprises increases of between 8% and 10% in the first year; 7.5% and 10% in the second year; and 7% to 10% in the third year, Solidarity said. “The proposed agreement moreover stipulates that section 37 of the Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council Collective Agreement will remain unchanged, with a provision that existing company-level agreements stay in force,” Solidarity said in a press release.
As part of the wage agreement, labour brokers will not be banned as Numsa had requested, but a number of regulatory instruments will be introduced — such as compliance officers to act on complaints of alleged abuse and noncompliance.
Jim, however, said this will be costly and an outright ban would be more efficient.
Jim said those employers represented by the National Employers Association of South Africa, who had long claimed they could not afford more than a 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”.
He said Numsa expected the minister of labour to gazette and extend the agreement as soon as possible.