A Numsa led march. File photo: Jeffrey Abrahams

Cape Town - The government is trying to avert another strike, this time in the metal and engineering sector, barely a week after the country’s longest and most devastating strike came to an end.

Briefing the media following the new administration’s first cabinet meeting this week, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi said those involved in the dispute would receive government support to ensure that the strike did not go ahead.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) will go on strike in the metal and engineering sector from Tuesday. The union is demanding a 12 percent wage increase.

The Numsa National Executive Committee said on Thursday that the decision to go on strike was “not an easy one”.

“But we can unambiguously state that this strike enjoys the overwhelming support of our members in this strategic layer of our country’s economy, wherein more than 400 000 workers are selling their labour power and are being cheaply exploited,” said the NEC following its meeting on Thursday.

Muthambi said the prolonged mining sector strike had had “dire negative effects” on workers, employers, and the economy.

“Whether (or) not we are concerned about the strike, I will say to you that question is also linked to what will be done to avoid future strikes in the near future. There’s no short cut to stakeholder relationships. This has to be (done) on a daily basis. So on the issue of Numsa, this is the call we are making as this government and we’re going to support all the affected parties to ensure that that strike doesn’t take place,” said Muthambi.

She said the cabinet welcomed the end of the five-month Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union-led strike in the platinum belt.

“While the right to strike is protected in our constitution and labour laws, cabinet appeals to both employers and the labour movement to resolve negotiations speedily and to avoid such prolonged strikes. As South Africans, we all have a responsibility to grow the country’s economy.”

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) said it welcomed the government’s concerns about the looming strike.

Chief executive officer Kaizer Nyatsumba said employers remained “very concerned” about the threatened strike and hoped that, “even at this late stage”, Numsa would reconsider its decision.

Seifsa is offering a 7 percent all-inclusive, cost-of-employment increase in 2014.

He said that some of the unions’ demands – such as the calls for employers in the metal and engineering industries not to implement the government-sanctioned youth wage subsidy and not to use labour brokers – “appeared to be political”.

Muthambi said the cabinet also “accepted” the recent downgrades by international rating agencies.

South Africa’s credit rating outlook was downgraded by rating agencies Fitch and Standard and Poor’s.

“We need to accept that unquestionably. However cabinet takes this seriously and will be accelerating the implementation of the NDP (National Development Plan) , details of which will be in the budget votes in the various ministries,” said Muthambi.

Political Bureau