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Numsa throws a strike threat for SA’s broken economy 

Thousands of members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the country's largest union, take part in a strike action in Johannesburg, South Africa, 01 July 2014. (PHOTO: EPA/IHSAAN HAFFEJEE)
By Ray Mahlaka
05 Aug 2021 10

A dispute over salary increases for workers in SA’s engineering and steel industry has been declared by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA. The union is now threatening strike action in the industry, which could be disastrous for an economy that took a R50-billion hit due to the recent social unrest. 

A general strike in the public sector, which could have shut down state hospitals, schools, and police stations, has been averted but possible industrial action might be in the offing in SA’s engineering and steel industry. 

 A strike in the engineering and steel industry, which contributes about 10% to SA’s overall economic activity, could further harm an economy that is still reeling from Covid-19 related lockdowns and the recent week of anarchy. 

 In the public sector, salary negotiations were concluded in July after a majority of trade unions that represent 1.3 million public servants accepted the government’s offer of a 1.5% salary increase for 2021. 

 The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which claims to have more than 339,000 members, has trashed the government’s offer for public servants, calling it an “insult” because public sector unions were pushing for an increase of at least 8%. 

 Numsa is also seeing red in the engineering and steel industry as the union has threatened to go on a “mother of all strikes” for higher pay. Numsa has demanded a salary increase of 8% for workers in the engineering and steel industry for one year (2021), then an adjustment of consumer inflation plus 2% for the following two years. This works out to salary increases of just over 6% because the SA Reserve Bank expects inflation to average 4.2% and 4.5% in 2022 and 2023 respectively. 

 In a media statement, Irvin Jim, the Numsa general secretary, said workers were willing to not accept salary increases in 2020 when Covid-19 burrowed its way into SA, forcing the economy to shut down and the profitability of engineering and steel companies to be impacted.

 “We allowed employers, at the back of the sweat and toil of our members, not to give increases, and to strengthen their balance sheets and recover what was lost in a year both in our country and the world…Many businesses have [now] broken even and some have made profits. We made such compromises being very clear that such preservation of companies should translate to job security,” said Jim. 

 But employers in the engineering and steel industry are not entertaining Numsa’s salary adjustment demands as they have tabled a 4.4% increase for 2021, an inflation plus 0.5% increase in 2022, and inflation plus 1% increase in 2023. Using the Reserve Bank’s inflation forecast, the offer of employers works out to salary increases of about  4.7% in 2022 and 5.5% in 2023.

 The employers are represented by industry bodies including the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa), the South African Engineers’ and Founders’ Association, and others

Numsa has rejected the offer by the employers and declared a dispute on Thursday 29 July at the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council, where conditions of employment in the industry are discussed. Numsa wants the employers to reconsider their salary adjustment offer, failing that, the union will “serve employers with a 48-hour notice for an indefinite national strike.”

The union has implored other workers in the automotive industry, component supplies, tyre sector, mining, aviation, and all ports to join the possible strike in solidarity. This would be a disaster for the economy, which suffered a R50-billion hit in its output due to the recent street violence and looting that also blocked key supply chains in the broader manufacturing industry from operating.

 Employer responds 

 On Monday 2 August, Seifsa, a body that represents organisations that employ about 190,000 workers in the engineering and steel industry, declared a counter dispute against Numsa at the bargaining council over the union’s refusal to accept the offer by employers.  The counter dispute will ensure that employers have the right to implement a lockout of workers if they were to go on a strike. In other words, workers represented by Numsa could be excluded from their workplaces until the dispute is resolved. 

 Seifsa CEO Lucio Trentini said the bargaining council has scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday 10 August between “all the negotiating parties in order to decide on how best to progress the deadlock.” DM/BM





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All Comments 10

  • Of course. It is the way that many South African’s think. Demand more, work less, the money will come. Caveat though – the money has to be shared with the high-level white collar ‘looters’ who will have first bite at what is available – and the piggy bank is empty. So, go ahead, strike, damage the economy more – the money will come (or not).

  • The employers’ offer is generous given the times. Numsa should rather work with industry to create more training and employment opportunities. Work this in as part of the wage agreement. Then unions may be seen as working for the people of this country. But Irvin Jim’s populist mindset is the main obstacle here.

  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Lower wages and more labour intensive jobs is what is needed.
    If you get a smaller membership fee from more workers, the chances are your coffers will be fuller Irvin and more families will have hope.
    Ever thought of it that way?

  • Just typical….as was predicted many years ago the unions have become an elite in themselves and care nothing for the national interest. It is just me, me, me! Then when it is all gone and the few union leaders are the only ones left with anything – what then.

  • Let them do it. The strike will hurt everyone but it will hurt themselves (NUMSA) the most. Maybe after they cut their noses to spite their faces they will realize what is going on.

  • Numsa is Ivine Jim’s big pay cheque . He and his band of double-think comrades will close down industry on the alter of ideology.

  • Go for it – strike! Unemployment, poverty and inequality will all increase again and NUMSA, COSATU and their Comrades will blame apartheid and those sensible people who decided not to leave their cash invested in businesses employing their members, but rather in foreign stocks, safe from this behaviour (as well as EWC.) Is our education so bad that the principle of cause and effect is not taught?

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