The 19 employer associations affiliated to industry body the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) and the industry’s five trade unions on September 1 formally adopted the 2020 to 2021 standstill main agreement concluded in August.
The collective agreement, adopted in line with the Labour Relations Act, now enjoys the status of a collective industry agreement and marks a watershed moment in which business and labour together recognised the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on companies and employees across the metals and engineering (M&E) sector, says Seifsa.
The five trade unions that are signatories to this agreement are the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Solidarity, the United Association of South Africa, the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa and the South African Equity Workers Association.
Collectively, the membership of these trade unions accounts for 49.8% of all workers employed by employer organisations on the bargaining council.
The Seifsa-affiliated employer associations represent 56% of all workers employed by employer parties on the bargaining council.
Seifsa operations director Lucio Trentini says the agreement is significant because it is an acknowledgment by all the negotiating parties of the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on companies and on the livelihoods of employees in an economy that was already in a recession before the pandemic.
The pandemic and the resulting nationwide lockdown to curb its spread have pushed many businesses to the brink of collapse, with unemployment reaching a record 30.1%, notes Seifsa.
“In response, we have all agreed to lock in existing terms and conditions of employment over a 12-month period, freezing the current wage rates until June 30, 2021, to enable the industry to adjust to a post-Covid-19 reality. This is unprecedented not just in this sector, but in the country in general,” Trentini says.
The agreement, he says, is the result of a collective bargaining partnership founded on understanding, respect and trust.
“The agreement gives our industry an opportunity to preserve jobs, while seeking solutions that will help to turn around not only the fortunes of the sector, but the economy as a whole,” Trentini notes.