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Johannesburg - The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has said that it is 100 percent in solidarity with its affiliate,the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), in their struggle to negotiate a new wage agreement in the engineering sector.

This comes after Numsa said on Wednesday that wage negotiations with employers in the engineering sector under the auspices of the bargaining chamber, the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), have deadlocked. Numsa rejected the employers' offer of a 5.3 percent wage increase earlier this month, insisting on its demand for a 15 percent wage increase across the board and an extension of the current agreement for two years.

The metal and engineering sector talks come as the current wage agreement lapses at the end of June. The current minimum wage is at R40 per hour, but the sector wishes to slash entry level salaries by 50 percent by offering entrance workers R20 per hour. In a statement, Saftu said this was a life-and-death battle because if employers get away with what workers are demanding, they would have set a dangerous precedent which their colleagues in other sectors are sure to be quick to copy.

"This is because whereas in the recent past, wage negotiations focused on the size of the percentage increase in workers' wages and benefits, in these talks the discussion is the other way round - the employers are trying to impose wage decreases which will see new workers in the sector earning only half of the current minimum rate," Saftu said.

"The employers' demand is for workers to accept a downward variation of the basic conditions of workers, which will create a two-tier labour market system of equal work for unequal pay." Numsa said it was hoping that employers will come to their senses in time now that we have deadlocked so that it does no have to resort to a strike. Saftu said it was confident that Numsa would never agree to proposals which would violate the basic principles of equal pay for work of equal value and that it would back them all the way.

"If however the employers fail to improve their offer and workers have no choice but to strike, Saftu will support them all the way and mobilise solidarity action to ensure that they bring the employers to their senses."