JOHANNESBURG, August 23 – Trade unions in the metals and engineering sector on Wednesday signed a three-year wage agreement with employers under the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) after four months of intensive wage negotiations.
In terms of the 2017-2020 agreement, wages in the sector will increase by seven percent this year, 6.75 percent in the second year, and 6.5 percent in the third year.
The agreement was signed by the Steel Industry and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), the National Union of Metalworkers Union of South Africa (Numsa), the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa, and the South African Equity Workers Association.
Unions had been demanding a 15 percent wage hike across the board based on the actual rate workers were earning and not on the new minimum rate. The unions also wanted the increases backdated to 1 July.
But employers had proposed, among other things, a three-year wage agreement offering of 5.3 percent wage hike across the board for the first year of the agreement based on the minimum rate, and not the actual rate that workers are earning.
The previous metal and engineering sector wage agreement lapsed at the end of June.
Seifsa chief executive, Kaizer Nyatsumba, said though both the unions and the industry were not entirely happy with the agreement, they believed that it was the best possible compromise under the circumstances. He said the agreement was fair for both parties.
Nyatsumba said the deal would bring much-needed stability in the sector which has been bleeding jobs over the past few years.
“The process was long and hard, and there were considerable challenges along the way. But we are hugely relieved that finally we and our labour partners were able to reach a historic agreement on realistic wage adjustments for the next three years,” Nyatsumba said.
“We came into these negotiations with vastly different starting positions, as is usually the case during negotiations. However, to the credit of the respective parties, we moved gradually over time to the realistic figures at which we eventually settled.”
Seifsa represents 23 independent employer associations who employ around 170,000 workers while Numsa is the largest union in the sector.
Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim sent a strong message to the employer body, the National Employers Association of South Africa (Neasa), which did not sign the wage agreement, saying that his union would continue to lobby for them to implement the agreement.
“We are calling on those one or two associations to come on board. We are saying to them we will not settle less than seven percent that we have settled with. The sooner they come to the party, at an appropriate time we might be left with no option as a union but take them head on with a strike action,” Jim said.
“There should be no crisis in the industry. We should actually be settling and put negotiations behind us. Our members are not happy, but we want them to understand that this is not a decision we have taken lightly. We had to look at the state of the economy and the fact that if we were to go on strike, they themselves would have no guarantee and it would not have been responsible.”
– African News Agency (ANA)