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Johannesburg - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said on Wednesday that wage negotiations and employers in the engineering sector have deadlocked after the union rejected the 5.3 percent wage increase earlier this month.

Numsa has been meeting employers under the auspices of the bargaining chamber, the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), to negotiate a new wage agreement. The metal and engineering sector talks come as the current wage agreement lapses at the end of June. The union tabled a demand for a 15 percent wage increase across the board on the actual rate that workers are earning, not on the minimum rate, and an extension of the current agreement for two years.

Numsa's acting spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi, said talks have deadlocked because they are trying to impose backward wage proposals which will see new workers in the sector earning only half of the current minimum rate. Hlubi accused the engineering sector of being racist, saying that 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.

"The engineering sector remains largely white owned, racist and sexist. The lowest pay is reserved for the African majority and workers continue to be exposed to appalling working conditions," Hlubi said. "The sector drastically needs to transform but very few changes have taken place. Some companies in this sector frequently violate basic health and safety rules, resulting in workers losing their limbs and sometimes even their lives, and yet these companies hardly experience any severe consequences for their actions."

Hlubi also said the union was opposed to the introduction of a 45-hour week, the reduction of the annual leave of new entrants from four weeks to three weeks, and the denial of a bonus for female workers who take maternity leave. "They want to impose policies which are a downward variation of the basic conditions of workers. Their goal is to worsen the working conditions and not to improve them," Hlubi said.

"Now that we have deadlocked, it will be up to employers to improve the offer. We hope that employers will come to their senses in time so that we don't have to resort to a strike."