Johannesburg - The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa) on Friday served notice of a lockout at its 23 members' premises, trade union Solidarity said.

“This lockout notice served by Seifsa... means that the employer organisation itself has now brought the industry to a halt, and with it a great deal of harm to its members and the economy in general,” it said in a statement.

Seifsa is the largest of the three employers' organisations in the metal and engineering industries' bargaining council.

A deadlock in the negotiations led to a notice of strike action from majority union the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood, and Allied Workers' Union (Ceppwawu), and the General Industries Workers' Union of SA (Giwusa).

On Thursday, Numsa general secretary Karl Cloete said the union's 220,000 members in the sector would go on an indefinite strike from Tuesday.

A strike in the metal and engineering industries would have a “domino effect” as the metal and engineering companies supplied services and goods which almost all other major industries in the country relied on, he said.

The union's demands include a one-year wage agreement with a 12 percent wage increase.

Employers have tabled a three-year wage settlement offer of between seven and eight percent for different levels of workers in the first year, and CPI-linked increases for 2015 and 2016.

Manager of the metal and specialist division of the United Association of SA (Uasa) Johan van Niekerk explained that employers could use lockouts for the purpose of putting pressure on unions to accept an offer.

“In a lockout, they tell the employees to go home. Because of the no-work, no-pay principle, it forces employees to put pressure on us (unions) to accept the employers' offer.”

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said the union's 22,000 members in the industries would be prohibited from working, despite having not intended to strike.

He described Seifsa's decision to bar workers affiliated to non-striking unions from working as “strong-arm tactics”, disrespectful of collective bargaining and all parties who wanted to keep workplaces functional and operational.

“Solidarity calls upon all Seifsa members to ignore the lockout notice issued by their employer organisation and allow their loyal employees to continue with production to avoid a situation where the country can go into a recession...

“Solidarity also calls upon Seifsa members to re-consider their membership with an employers organisation that does not have the best interest of the industry at heart.”

Since the lockout notice was served, Solidarity had been inundated by messages from Seifsa members seeking to distance themselves from Seifsa, who wanted to work with the union away from the employers' body so work could continue.

“We believe that Seifsa's leadership does not have a proper mandate for its current actions and that a confidential ballot will expose this state of affairs.”

In a statement on Friday, Seifsa dismissed Solidarity's claims that its members were not in full support of the lockout as “spurious”.

Seifsa chief executive Kaizer Nyatsumba said the lockout notice was fully mandated by the organisation's council, comprising chairpersons of all employer associations belonging to Seifsa at a special meeting on Monday.

The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council's (MEIBC) constitution allowed for any party “to pursue whatever means are available in the Labour Relations Act to process that dispute”.

This was provided in the event that the dispute was not settled within 30 days of being referred to the MEIBC and no process to resolve it had been agreed to.

Du Plessis claimed that MEIBC head Thulani Mthiyane had issued a final deadlock certificate prematurely.

“This certificate now gives Numsa and Seifsa the opportunity to strike instead of engaging in further negotiations while production continues.”

Solidarity had written a letter to the other unions and the employer organisations asking for an extension of the dispute round of negotiations for 21 days in an attempt to avoid a strike.

The unions have dropped their increase demand to 12 percent.

Employers have submitted their own list of demands, including one that pay for entry-level workers be halved.

Van Niekerk said this would mean that current entry-level workers would earn twice as much as anyone employed in the same position after such a deal was signed.

“The motivation of the employers that this will stimulate youth employment in the industry is a dream boat that will never sail.

“To us, it merely means the exploitation of the youth and it can be predicted that if they succeed, it will not take long for the salary levels of all employees to be pushed down to lower levels...” - Sapa