The Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council (MEIBC) currently finds itself in watershed negotiations.
It is common cause that the Industry is in distress. According to the MEIBC the Industry lost 150 000 jobs over the 10 year period from 2006 to 2015. The IDC recently confirmed a further 25 000 job losses and 500 business closures during the last twelve month period. The issue of uncompetitive wages is one of the main causes stifling job creation in the Industry.
The wages in the Steel Industry are currently, on average, double that of other Industries covered by bargaining council agreements. The wage gap is even bigger when it is compared to wages determined by wage determinations.
The wage proposal by NEASA and other employer groupings in this round of negotiations are to address this ever worsening trend in terms of job losses and also to create a position in which new jobs could be created. One of the employer demands is to establish a new entry level wage for newly appointed employees in this Industry.
In press releases by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), they constantly create the impression that this constituted a downward variation of wages.
This is simply not true. It is not the case now, and it has never been the position of employers. In terms of the employers' position in this regard, the wages of existing employees will not be affected.
The same applies to the misinformation being circulated to the effect that, apart from employers proposing to reduce the wages of current employees, they also want to increase working hours. Again this is not true. The proposal by employers in this regard is simply to add an additional five hours to the normal working hours before overtime is introduced.
In spreading misinformation about the employers’ proposals, knowing perfectly well that it is not true, NUMSA is playing a very dangerous game – probably aimed at inciting employees to strike – for the wrong reasons. This is dangerous, mischievous and irresponsible.
Stakeholders at the negotiating table, both employers and trade unions, must remember that they are not only negotiating for their own interests. There is indeed much more at stake. Opening the opportunity of employment to the millions of unemployed people has now become one of South Africa's most strategic objectives. In the Steel Industry, taking the lead in this regard and doing something constructive, is within our power.
This press release is by Gerhard Papenfus, Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), which is also the largest employer body involved in the current negotiations.