Zwelinzima Vavi. File picture: Neil Baynes

Johannesburg - Employers in the engineering and metals sector who refuse to sign a wage settlement are greedy, Congress of SA Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Saturday.

“Look at the behaviour of some engineering employers who are locking our members out of their factories, because these greedy bosses reject the wage settlement brokered by the minister of labour and signed by their colleagues at the bargaining council,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery at a SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union regional conference in Bloemfontein, Free State.

The National Employers' Association of SA (Neasa) said it would continue its lock-out of workers who participated in the recent metal industry protest, despite threats.

Six unions in the sector signed a wage deal with most employers after a month-long strike.

Neasa refused to sign the offer, saying it had been sidelined in the negotiation process facilitated by the labour department.

As a result, Neasa, which had 22 members and employed about 70,000 workers, continued its lock-out.

Over 200,000 Numsa members in the metal and engineering sector downed tools on July 1, demanding a salary increase of 12 percent, down from their pre-strike demand of 15 percent. They then revised their demand to 10 percent.

They also demanded a R1000 housing allowance and a total ban on labour brokers.

In terms of the new wage deal, workers would get increases of between eight and 10 percent, depending on whether they were high or low earners.

Vavi said the main beneficiaries of the country's 20 years of democracy had been the billionaires who owned industries and the chief executives “who demand parity with their counterparts in the USA and Europe” while expecting workers wages to be benchmarked against levels in sweatshop economies.

“Yet they want to widen these divisions further, always complaining that their workers keep making unaffordable wage demands and mounting attacks on collective bargaining, trade union rights, labour laws and institutions like Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council) and the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).

He said employers wanted to declare war rather than seek peace.

“They want a return to the days when they could use the unemployed in what Karl Marx called the 'reserve army of labour' as a battering ram to force workers to work for whatever the boss offers with no union to protect them from exploitation, abuse and racism at work.”