The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Solidarity signed a three-year wage agreement with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) on Wednesday.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Solidarity signed a three-year wage agreement with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) on Wednesday.

The settlement culminated after four months of intensive negotiations that covers the period from this year to 2020. Chief executive officer of SEIFSA Kaizer Nyatsumba has described the agreement as historic.

“The process was long and hard, and there were considerable challenges along the way, but we are hugely relieved that finally we and our labor partners were able to reach an historic agreement on realistic wage agreements for the next three years. “It was not easy. Neither we nor unions are entirely happy with the agreement reached, but we can live with it. We believe that it is the best possible agreement that we could reach under the circumstances, and we believe that it is fair to both parties.

He said that these negotiations came with vastly different starting positions. “We moved gradually over time to the realistic figures at which we eventually settled. We did so very mindful of the terrible state of our economy and, more importantly of the worse state of the metals and engineering sector which has been bleeding jobs over the past few years.”

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The agreement came into effect on 1 July 2017 until 30 June 2020. The parties have agreed that the workers’ wage component will increase by 7% in the current year, 6,75% in the second year and 6.5% in the third year.

National spokesperson of Numsa Irvin Jim said the union had initially demanded a 15% across the board wage increase for its members in recognition of the extreme suffering they (workers) experience as a result of low wages. “We decided to compromise because we wanted to save the bargaining council and to ensure that centralised bargaining is sustainable. We are also mindful of the dire economic situation which is affecting the economy and the impact that it’s had on the companies.”

“We negotiated in good faith, and we conducted the talks with integrity. As a trade union we are always mindful of the demanding effects of a strike and the burden that it places on our members and their families.” Jim said.

Deputy General Secretary of Solidarity added that the agreement could bring stability in the industry. “The industry is currently under immense pressure and the demand for steel products is declining, which means that the status quo in the industry is changing. “We want to appeal to other employers’ organisation to come to the table as well that the steel industry survives.”

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE