General Secretary of Numsa Irvin Jim during their march to the MEIBC offices demanding a 13% wage increase, in Johannesburg on Monday, July 4, 2011. Photo: Leon Nicholas.

The strike in the metal and engineering industries could be the last straw for small companies struggling to rebuild their businesses in the wake of the economic crisis, according to the Cape Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber was reacting on Monday to the news of the first day of a nationwide strike called by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu), both affiliates of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu).

The two unions have issued six demands: an increase of 13% after original demands of 20%, while employers were offering 7%; a two-year wage agreement (whereas employers want a three-year agreement); the banning of labour brokers, where employers said they would want regulation; one-day testing for all diseases; five days' family responsibility per occurrence; and a 20% night shift allowance.

“Demands for an increase of more than double the inflation rate come on top of massive electricity price increases and this could be too much for some companies,” said Michael Bagraim, president of the chamber.

“We already have companies in the engineering sector on short time and if there is to be an increase of more than the 7% offered there will be downsizing and retrenchments. I'm afraid the indications are that this strike will destroy jobs.”

Bagraim said that at a time when all should be working together to bring more people into formal employment, the strike would discourage companies from taking on more staff.

He said that Cosatu had warned about a ring of fire and the need to deal with the unemployment problem, but its actions told a different story.

“The only people to benefit from the strike would be those who already had jobs with the big companies, while the demands would make it more difficult for the unemployed to find work,” Bagraim said. - I-Net Bridge