Wiseman Khuzwayo

If further efforts failed to untangle the deadlock in the wage negotiations in the metals and engineering sector, it was likely a national strike would take place next month, the National Employers’ Association of SA (Neasa) has warned.

The body issued the warning on Thursday after three rounds of negotiations in the metal and engineering industry bargaining council reached a deadlock in the country’s largest industry.

Gerhard Papenfus, the chief executive, said: “With regard to all crucial substantive issues, no progress has been made. If further attempts to reach consensus fail, it is likely a national strike will commence in July.”

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) confirmed a deadlock had been reached with the unions, led by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), and mutual disputes were declared.

It said the disputes, declared first by the unions followed by the employers, marked the beginning of a series of intensive talks over the next month as part of the dispute resolution procedure. A meeting of the bargaining council management committee is scheduled for tomorrow, during which the parties will decide on the best way to overcome the dispute.

The facilitated negotiations began with a pre-bargaining meeting at the end of March and continued until disputes were declared on Thursday.

Unions participating in the negotiations are Numsa, Solidarity, the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of SA and the SA Equity Workers Association.

Seifsa said the unions had presented employers with a consolidated list of 38 demands, which included a 20 percent wage increase. Employers, who entered the negotiations with their own set of demands, offered an inflation-linked increase of 6.1 percent for 2014 on the cost of employment over the next three years.

It said although the four unions had opened with a 15 percent demand, they consolidated and settled on the 20 percent stipulated by two other unions. Before their declaration of a dispute on Thursday, the unions had reduced their demand to 15 percent.

Kaizer Nyatsumba, the chief executive of Seifsa, said: “Our approach to the negotiations has been informed by the need to maintain existing jobs and to create new ones. We are concerned that our economy has not performed well in recent years, with the metals and engineering industry among the sectors most threatened by cheap imports.”

Deon Reyneke, the leader of Solidarity’s delegation, said conditions imposed by employers had led to the deadlock. He claimed that Seifsa had said entry-level wages had to be cut in half and insisted unions must sign a peace agreement before it would sign. Neasa had declared that minimum wages must be cut by 50 percent before it would sign, he added.

There has been a serious rift and some hostility between Neasa and Seifsa over the three-year agreement that ends this month.

Neasa accused Seifsa of collaborating with the unions by getting Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to extend the main collective agreement to non-parties, including Neasa, that did not sign it.

In December 2012, the La-bour Court agreed with Neasa and declared the agreement invalid. Despite this, Oliphant extended the agreement.