EMPLOYERS in the steel and engineering industry have upped their salary increase offer to striking workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) in the hope of ending a damaging strike now entering its second week.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), the sector’s largest employer body that represents 18 organisations employing 170,000 workers, has confirmed to Business Maverick that an improved wage increase for workers in 2021 has been presented to Numsa officials.
The terms and conditions of the offer have not been made public.
‘We have given an undertaking that the revised offer that we have shared with Numsa will not be made public until Numsa responds to the offer. But it is a significant improvement from what was tabled in the original offer,’ said Lucio Trentini, CEO of Seifsa.
Seifsa had hoped to secure a meeting with Numsa officials on Monday evening to discuss the improved offer.
Numsa has demanded an across-the-board, backdated salary increase of 8% for one year (2021), then an adjustment of consumer inflation plus 2% for the following two years. This works out to increases of just over 6% for 2022 and 2023.
But employers have rejected these demands, instead tabling a 4.4% increase for 2021, an inflation plus 0.5% increase in 2022 and an inflation plus 1% increase in 2023. In turn, Numsa rejected the offer, triggering a national strike that began on 5 October.
Business Maverick was informed by a senior official close to the negotiations that employers have sweetened their offer by nearly two percentage points in 2021, from 4.4% to 6%, which will also be offered to the lowest-earning workers in the industry.
This latest offer has pitched salary increases of between 5% to 6% — depending on the employment and skills level of workers.
Numsa confirmed that an improved offer had been tabled. ‘Numsa members are deliberating on an offer proposed by Siefsa. It is an improvement on the 4.4% offered by employers.
‘We are waiting on members to give feedback about how they feel about the offer. If they accept, the strike will be over. If they reject the strike continues,’ said Numsa national spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.
A continuation of the strike beyond Tuesday 12 October will be devastating for the economy. Seifsa’s Trentini estimates that the industrial action has already cost workers about R100-million in lost wages.
This is because employers in the steel and engineering industry have imposed a “no work, no pay” policy for striking workers affiliated with Numsa. Trentini said between ‘30% and 40%’ of Numsa-affiliated workers are on strike.
‘The average pay per hour for Numsa members is around R55. Workers have lost R2,100-odd in wages over the last five days of the strike. The industry has lost in excess of R100m in wages thus far,’ said Trentini.
He is worried about the broader impact of the strike on the economy, as shop floors at many steel factories across the country have been abandoned by striking workers, affecting productivity in the process. Workers who didn’t join the strike have, in some cases, been encouraged by strikers to down tools.
The steel and engineering industry is important for South Africa’s economy as it represents nearly 2% of economic output and is responsible for 190,000 direct jobs. Its supply chain is long — steel is used in skyscrapers and bridges, cars and cruise ships, guns and washing machines.
‘We are losing wages and production activity in the industry as the strike continues. If you take this money out of the economy, it creates a big dent. It is a toxic cocktail where everyone loses. All of those feed into an economy that is struggling to climb out of the doldrums,’ said Trentini.
- COSATU mourns the passing of revolutionary Swazi unionist – Comrade Vincent Ncongwane.
In a statement COSATU International Secretary Sonia Mabunda-Kaziboni said:
‘The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is deeply saddened by the passing of the former General Secretary of the then Swaziland Federation of Labour, Comrade Vincent Ncongwane, on Thursday, the 7th October 2021.
‘Ncongwane played a major role in the formation of the Labour Coordinating Council, which was the coordinating body of the two national labour centres (Swaziland Federation of Labour and Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions) and the stand-alone Swaziland National Teachers’ Union. He was also the former Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
Comrade Ncongwane was passionate in his activism for the respect and awe of workers’ rights and the call for the democratisation of Swaziland.
The federation conveys its deepest and heartfelt sympathies to the Ncongwane family, the Swazi people, progressive forces supporting the Swazi struggle, colleagues and friends of the late Comrade Ncongwane. We wish them strength and comfort during this difficult time.
‘In honour of Comrade Ncongwane’s legacy, we continue to call on all progressive forces to agitate for the economic and political isolation of the Mswati government.
‘This campaign needs to be strengthened and intensified so that the exploited and oppressed people of Swaziland can be freed from the shackles of the Mswati regime.’