Johannesburg - The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is promoting a militant socialist agenda through the metal sector strike, the National Employers Association of SA (Neasa) said on Monday.

“Addressing poverty and unemployment, sustainable economic growth, the rightful aspirations of the unemployed and even the real interests of their own members are sacrificed for short-term political aspirations,” said chief executive Gerhard Papenfus.

He said Numsa had already made up its mind to go on strike a month before the strike could start.

“To suggest then that Numsa wanted a swift settlement in these negotiations is suspicious,” he said.

“It is clear that Numsa always had an ideological agenda and that they could never sufficiently make that point without a strike.”

Numsa members went on strike on July 1, initially demanding a salary increase of 12 percent, dropped from their pre-strike demand of 15 percent, a R1000 housing allowance and a total ban on labour brokers.

The union lowered its wage demand to 10 percent at the weekend.

Employer body, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa), tabled a three-year wage offer of between eight and 10 percent for different levels of workers in the first year.

Neasa has offered eight percent, subject to an agreement on the reduction of the entry-level wage.

Papenfus said as parties negotiating within the bargaining council structures they had a responsibility to negotiate a dispensation that was sustainable, would stimulate business and economic growth, attract investment and consequently create jobs.

“Numsa has made it very clear that they do not want to negotiate these issues at all. Whilst they create an impression of them fighting for the working class and the poor, their policies and actions achieve exactly the opposite.”

He said Neasa's proposal for the reduction of the entry-level wage opened the door to those who were currently not fortunate to be employed in the industry.

“I fail to understand why anyone defending these positions is called a racist, 'backward' and a proponent of slave labour.”

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said on Sunday that the strike had revealed that within the employer groupings there was a serious diehard layer of rightwing conservatives who saw workers not as human beings.

“These extreme reactionary elements within the engineering employer bodies refuse to see black and African workers as deserving of full human rights.

“This group is led by a very backward lot. Mr Papenfus... has now shown himself to be a serious trade union basher who, 20 years into our democracy, still wants to continue championing a very backward and primitive attitude that smells like the old apartheid baasskap mentality.”

He said there was no proof that smaller employers across the board had no ability to pay.

“The ball is in their (employers') court to end the strike,” he said.

Jim said Numsa was considering a solidarity strike should the employers continue making unreasonable demands.

“We might be left with no option but to call for targeted solidarity action in all our sectors. This is seriously under consideration.” - Sapa