Labour taunts government on metalworkers housing as R2 billion deal sprouts

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Siphelele Dludla/Independent Newspapers.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Siphelele Dludla/Independent Newspapers.

Published May 16, 2024


The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) has challenged the government to match the steel and engineering sector rand-for-rand in the housing initiative for workers embedded in the latest three-year wage agreement reached with the Steel Engineering Industry Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa).

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim made these remarks yesterday at a press briefing to explain what the parties hailed as an historic agreement achieved in record time of a month before the lapse of the previous wage agreement.

Jim said it was surprisingly easy to have the employers ring-fence R2 billion from the Metals and Engineering Industries Benefit Fund (MEIBF) to establish the fund to provide housing facilities for workers.

The MEIBF manages more than R149bn in investments on behalf of metalworkers.

“We had to be glib and smart to secure this agreement in record time because there are employers that are sabotaging agreements and the stability in the industry,” Jim said.

“We have struggled to secure a living wage above inflation, and we have broken new ground with the R2bn we have asked employers to ring-fence for workers’ housing. Now we challenge the government to match us rand-for-rand in bettering the conditions of the workers.”

Siefsa is a national federation representing 18 independent employer associations in the metals and engineering industries, with a combined membership of 1 223 companies employing around 167 000 employees.

Seifsa President Elias Monage emphasised the need to review the industrial policy, particularly as it pertained to the steel sector as there were obvious challenges with demand for steel and its associated services due to decline in overall economic performance.

Seifsa CEO Lucio Trentini also said that from the employers perspective, it was critical that an agreement be reached before negotiations escalated to industrial action.

Trentini said the R900bn sector is made up of more than 9 000 private companies employing over 400 000 workers, including about 3 000 blue collar workers, and could not afford the R600 million a day loss from a strike.

“The country cannot afford that. Manufacturing’s share of the gross domestic product (GDP) is 15%, the metals share of GDP is 3%. The sector is very huge in the economy,” Trentini said.

“If we shut down it affects the auto industry, mining, construction, agro-processing and others. We cannot afford a standstill. We all have had to put the interests of SA Inc first.”

Trade union Uasa’s sector manager Rick Grobler said the union had initially been reluctant to negotiate under the collective bargaining forum, but the results of the new agreement were proof that it was the best chance the sector had of surviving.

Meanwhile, trade union Solidarity warned of a brain drain of skilled artisans who are getting the equivalent of a 1% increase in the celebrated steel and engineering sector wage agreement.

The wage agreement entails an across the board above inflation 7% increment in the first year and 6% on the following years, along with a housing funding arrangement thrown in.

The first year of the agreement varies between 7% for unskilled employees and 6% for skilled employees, but adds that the increases are calculated according to the lowest wage scales.

An unamiable wage offer for skilled artisans Solidarity at the bargaining process under the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) in Boksburg left Solidarity with no choice but to reject it.

Solidarity, along with the National Employers Association of South Africa (Neasa) who have spurned the collective bargaining arrangements in the sector, have said the increases in the previous three-year agreement were calculated on the minimum wage rates as a compromise after Covid-19, which was understandable given the circumstances at the time.

Solidarity’s general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, said their final demand of a minimum increase of 5% on actual wages was rejected by the employers.

“As the wage increases are not calculated according to the real wages, the increases for artisans and other skilled employees will be between 2% and 3%, and after statutory deductions the increase will actually amount to an increase of just above 1%,” Du Plessis said.

“This discriminatory practice for a further three-year period means that artisans will receive increases way below inflation for six consecutive years.”