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Johannesburg - The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) on Tuesday urged its members and "all other workers to throw their weight behind" the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which is involved in a "life-or-death struggle" in the engineering sector.

Numsa, which is demanding a 15% wage hike across the board, has rejected the latest offer from employers in the engineering sector.

Saftu said the union was right to reject employers' proposals to increase wages in terms of the new minimum rate instead of what the workers were actually earning. 

"Numsa has quite rightly rejected the latest offer from employers," said Saftu in a statement.

The union federation, of which Numsa is a member, said another point of contention was the employers offer to implement a minimum rate of R20 per hour for new entrants to the sector when the present minimum was R40.

In February the National Economic Development and Labour Council agreed on a new national minimum wage of R20 per hour, It will, however, only be instituted from May 2018.

"It cannot be a coincidence that the engineering employers’ demand for R20 an hour for new entrants is exactly the same as the poverty-level national minimum wage agreed at Nedlac," said Saftu.

The federation warned that if Numsa were to agree to this "outrageous proposal," new workers "will suffer poverty and exploitation"' and jobs and wage levels will be at greater risk. 

Saftu said Numsa was determined to fight this battle to block greedy employers from implementing this poverty wage. 

"But they must not fight alone! If they are left with no choice but to strike, Saftu and the whole trade union movement must rally and mobilise its forces and flood the streets in solidarity action," said the federation.

"This is a struggle to protect the rights of all workers and their families and to ensure a life of dignity for them. This is a time when the battle cry of 'An injury to one is an injury to all' must not only be loudly shouted but acted on. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose."