Wage negotiations deadlocked

16 August 2017 News

At the time of writing, wage negotiations are ongoing in the engineering and steel industries.

While trade unions have applied for a certificate to launch strike action within the South African engineering sector, this does not necessarily mean that strikes are now inevitable, nor that such action is the only option still available to workers in the sector.

That’s the view of Gordon Angus, executive director of the South African Engineers and Founders Association (SAEFA). SAEFA has appointed an independent lead negotiator to represent employers in the current wage negotiations with engineering and steel sector workers and their unions. “The reality is that strike action will be extremely detrimental to employees and the sector as a whole,” Angus emphasises, “not to mention the additional pressure that it will bring to bear on the already tenuous economic situation in the country.”

Angus points to Jonathan Goldberg’s appointment as an independent negotiator by SAEFA, at its own expense, as a clear indication by the Association and the more than 400 businesses it represents of their sincere desire to reach a solution that will prevent strike action while also setting a solid and realistic foundation on which the sector can build going forward.

However, he points out that reaching such a solution requires the same level of commitment by the labour representatives to acting in the best interests of all parties, particularly the financial wellbeing of the employees they represent.

“Offers presented by employers have been summarily dismissed by unions, indicating the absence of a sincere desire to reach a sustainable solution that benefits all parties,” Angus explains, “but rather a predisposition by the union towards strike action.”

He points in particular to NUMSA’s outright rejection of a proposal of a reduced entry-level wage for new employees in the sector as indications of the union’s unwillingness to find a solution that promotes the long-term sustainability of the sector.

“SAEFA and the other employer representative associations have repeatedly assured employees that the proposed lower hourly wage (initially proposed at R20 per hour, the same level as the national minimum wage) is only for new, unskilled employees in the sector,” he says, “and that this will never be passed on to existing employed, trained and experienced workers.” However, he says that unions appear unwilling to trust that this is the case, nor that the intention behind the lower entry-level wage structure is to make it financially viable for the industry to provide further work opportunities and training to even more South Africans, thereby helping to reduce the sharply rising and wholly unsustainable SA unemployment rates.

“I am confident that, if the parties are willing to come to the table with an open mind, and a willingness to consider all viewpoints and concerns, a solution can be found that avoids the potentially devastating consequences of industrial action, Angus concludes, “but agreeing on that solution will require a sincere commitment by the employers and the union to set aside any other agendas they may have and negotiate with the best interests – both current and future – of the entire industry in mind.”

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