Responding to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (Numsa’s) alleged intention to take industrial action to “shut down” the country’s engineering sector, the South African Engineers and Founders Association (Saefa) feels that the trade union has no desire to avoid strike action, despite the significant financial repercussions it will have on the industry.
In a statement released Thursday, Saefa executive director Gordon Angus pointed out that, while the other unions involved in the negotiations at least made attempts to counter the offers put on the table by employers in the sector, Numsa had not contributed to any of the discussions, choosing rather to stick resolutely to its initial demands.
Angus explained that Numsa’s demand for a 15% increase, on top of wage rates that are already impacting negatively on the global competitiveness of South Africa’s engineering and metals manufacturing sectors, was “untenable”.
“Numsa’s unwillingness to budge on their unrealistic 15% increase, or to discuss the other demands made by employers, provides a clear indication that the organisation has always had the sole intention of initiating a strike,” he said.
Angus pointed out that industrial action not only has an immediate effect on an industry, but also has an impact that can linger for years afterwards, especially in terms of limiting future employment opportunities that could otherwise have been created, had long-term growth not been stunted by strikes.
In this regard, Angus highlighted the other major sticking point in the negotiations, which is the employers’ suggestion of a R20/h starting wage for new, unskilled employees.
This is lower than the current minimum wage of R40/h and has sparked fears among unions that the lower earnings would ultimately be passed on to all workers, including those who have extensive work experience.
“The R20/h starting wage suggestion represents the sincere effort by employers to stimulate sustainable job creation and sustainability in the industry by making it affordable for them to take on and train additional staff,” Angus explained.
He was adamant that, despite Numsa’s claims that employers are imposing strikes on their employees, the opposite was true.
“Employers earnestly want to avoid industrial action and remain willing to do whatever they can to find a solution to this impasse that meets the requirements of all parties,” he said.