Neasa digs in heels on wage agreement

The employer body says the new wage agreement is not representative of its members.

FILE: Over 200,000 Numsa-affiliated workers downed tools across the country on 1 July. Picture: Sebabatso Mosamo/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Employers' Association of South Africa (Neasa) has refused to back down on its call for entry level wages for new employees in the metal sector to be cut and says it will approach the Labour Court to exempt its members from a deal ending the strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

Over 200,000 Numsa-affiliated workers downed tools at steel and engineering companies across the country for a 10 percent wage hike on 1 July.

The union yesterday settled with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa).

A smaller union, the 20,000-strong United Association of South Africa, has also accepted the wage increase offer.

But the deal has been slammed by Neasa who says it is not representative of its members.

Neasa CEO Gerhard Papenfus says negotiations on their demand for an entry-level wage cut were never held and a lock out of union members will continue until this is addressed.

"The unions weren't prepared to address this at all and as from today, Neasa will lock out striking union members."

He says they will approach the Labour Court to block the extension of the deal once it signed by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

"Once the minister has done that, we will approach the Labour Court."

At the same time Neasa is concerned that a lock-out could incite violence among workers.

Numsa has challenged Neasa members who say they cannot afford the wage hike of 10 percent to open their financial records and apply for an exemption of the deal using the labour law but this has been rejected by the employer body.

Meanwhile, Chris Hart, chief economist at Investment Solutions, says the strike has hurt the economy and job losses are now on the cards.

"When you get a 10 percent wage increase, you are going to find that jobs will be lost. This is where the union leadership has not been forthcoming."

The metals and engineering strike came soon after the end of a five-month walkout in the platinum sector, the longest and costliest strike in South Africa's history.

WAGE AGREEMENT A VICTORY

Numsa says although it might take some time for the message to reach all its members, it expects a full return to work by Thursday.

The union has described the latest wage agreement as a massive victory for its members.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim says the settlement is the product of sweat and bitter struggles.

"This is a massive victory, given the pittance offer at the point of deadlock."

He says the offer has been overwhelmingly accepted by all its members.

"We got a resounding mandate that we should settle."

At the same time, Jim has lashed out at Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for supporting the reintroduction of strike ballots.

"Cyril Ramaphosa is a new deputy president, he arrived yesterday. We haven't even inducted him. Suddenly, he wants to introduce a ballot. He must first come and ask what the challenges in the industry are so that we can tell him the problem we have is an ANC that is ambivalent and does not act decisively."