Johannesburg - A strike in the metal and engineering sector, which is costing the economy millions every day, is unlikely to end this week as employers are demanding that unions effectively give up their bargaining rights at company level.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is getting feedback from its 220 000 members in the sector on whether to accept the latest wage offer.
While the union is content with the salary increase, a major sticking point is a so-called “peace clause”. It prevents unions from pursuing other issues, which are not in the three-year deal, at plant or company level. This means Numsa would have to wait three years until the national bargaining council sits again to raise new issues.
“Take the escalating cost of living. If workers want a transport allowance, they will have to wait three years to negotiate,” Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said on Wednesday.
The clause, which employers are adamant should be in the agreement as it prevents what they call double-dipping, will also make it difficult for Numsa to make deals on future retrenchments, and its members will not be allowed to down tools for three years. Employer bodies have already warned that job cuts are imminent in the sector because the wage increases on offer are too high for smaller companies.
The new wage proposal was negotiated with the help of the Labour Department which is anxious to see the strike end soon. It has been marred by violence, and employers estimate it is costing the country R300 million a day.
The proposal includes low-level workers earning an increase of 10 percent for the next three years.
One of the two main bodies representing employers, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), has “reluctantly” accepted the new proposal. However, this is on condition that Numsa agrees that section 37, also known as the peace clause, of the main agreement of the sector be tightened up.
Seifsa has given Numsa until Friday to accept its terms.
Another hurdle to an end to the strike is that the other main employer body, the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa), has turned down the Labour Department’s proposal. Neasa, which represents small businesses, refuses to budge from an 8 percent wage hike offer, saying its members cannot afford to pay anything more.
While Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant may try to extend the deal to all companies, as Seifsa represents the majority of employers, Neasa has said it will challenge the matter in the Labour Court.