Wiseman Khuzwayo

The largest employer organisation in the metal fabrication sector, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), served the unions in the metal and engineering industry bargaining council with a lockout notice on Friday, in anticipation of the strike tomorrow.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said yesterday that about 220 000 members would embark on strike action from tomorrow. It would also hold a number of marches and plant-based protests across the country.

Numsa’s demands include a 12 percent wage increase, a one-year agreement and the scrapping of labour brokers.

The notice was also served on Solidarity, which does not intend to strike. This was after the union requested that the dispute round should be extended by 21 days so that a negotiated settlement could be reached.

A lockout is the exclusion by an employer of the employees from the premises where they work in order to avoid violence and destruction of property on the premises during a strike.

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said the lockout notice meant Seifsa had now brought the industry to a halt, causing a great deal of harm to its members and the economy in general.

He said Solidarity’s 22 000 members in the metals and engineering sector were now prohibited to work and continue with production, even though they never intended to strike.

“Seifsa has already been placed on terms by Solidarity that the lockout will be contested since it has never been Solidarity’s intention to strike. We want collective bargaining to succeed because the people of South Africa cannot afford another devastating strike.”

He said Seifsa’s actions were so out of touch with the views of its own members that Solidarity had requested a secret ballot within the employer body.

“Since Seifsa’s lockout notice was served, Solidarity has been inundated by Seifsa members who want to distance themselves from Seifsa and who want to collaborate with Solidarity on an individual basis in order to continue with production.

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

Meanwhile, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) has called on the leadership of Numsa to delay the industrial action.

Neren Rau, Sacci’s chief executive, said: “If Numsa is truly committed to co-operation with government and business to work towards a more prosperous South Africa, then it should return to the negotiation table and not put South Africa’s economic stability at risk. This is especially pertinent given the severe economic impact of the prolonged platinum strike.”

He said a review of the industrial relations framework was also necessary to find ways to balance the rights of workers and the broader economy.

Meanwhile, Solidarity said it would lower its wage demand in negotiations with Eskom in order to reduce the gap between the employer’s offer and its request. This comes after Eskom announced last week that it had referred negotiations to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Deon Reyneke, Solidarity’s head of the energy industry, said it renounced the other unions’ demand for a 12 percent wage increase.

“Eskom decided to refer the negotiations to the CCMA after unions had rejected its latest offer of 5.6 percent and demanded a wage increase of 12 percent.

“Solidarity has no other choice but to distance itself from the wage demands of the National Union of Mineworkers and Numsa. We will participate in the negotiations at the CCMA in the hope that an agreement that is favourable for us and the employer alike can be reached.

“Solidarity is demanding a two-year wage agreement involving an increase of 8.1 percent for year one and 9.1 percent for year two.”