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Johannesburg- Afribusiness said on Monday that a strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), if it went ahead, would cause irreparable damage to the economy. 

This comes as Numsa last week slammed "intransigent" employers in the engineering sector and warned of a "total shutdown" in the industry as it goes into a fifth wage negotiation meeting. Numsa declared a dispute with employers in the engineering sector wage negotiations which deadlocked last month. 

Afribusiness's labour law advice unit manager, Charles Castle, warned that the strike that Numsa was threatening the entire metal and engineering industry with would harm, rather than benefit, the workers. 

Castle said if Numsa proceeded with its strike, the sector should expect more retrenchments and job losses which South Africa could afford at this stage with a current unemployment rate higher than 27 percent. 

"We understand the economic difficulties that employees in these sectors face. Considering the current economic situation of South Africa, it is irrational and unjust to employers and workers alike to embark on a strike as a result of unreasonable demands," Castle said in a statement.

"Employers will be left with no other alternative but to commence with retrenchments as a result of affordability and profit margins."

The union, which represents about 140,000 workers in the metal and engineering sector, is demanding a 15 percent wage increase across the board based on the actual rate workers are earning, not on the new minimum rate. It wants increases backdated to 1 July as the wage agreement lapsed at the end of June.  

But employers propose, among other things, a three-year wage agreement offering of 5.3 percent wage hike across the board for the first year of the agreement based on the minimum rate, and not the actual rate that workers are earning. 

Read also: Numsa warns 'intransigent' employers of possible strike

If the strike goes ahead, key sectors that  will be heavily affected include foundries, electronics and telecommunications, the plastic and fabrication industries, machinery and equipment, electrical engineering, basic metals, heavy and light engineering, as well as construction engineering companies.

Companies which supply critical parts to the auto industry, including Auto Industrial, Bell Equipment, CBI, Union Carriage and Wagon, Dorbyl, Marley Pipe System and Dana Spicer Axle among others, could also be affected by the strike, while ongoing work at Eskom power stations Medupi, Kusile and Ingqurha, may also incur further delays.