The National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa), a union that represents engineering workers, has agreed to end a month long strike after it accepted a 10% wage increase offer from employers, a union leader said on Monday.
The leader of the more than 200 000 strong organisation revealed on Monday that, as Numsa, South Africa’s largest union, they had accepted a 10 percent annual pay rise fixed for three years for its lowest-paid workers. Irvin Jim added that members were due to return to work on Tuesday, the following day.
The strike, which started on the first of July and was littered with claims of violence and intimidation, was initially based on a demand by workers of a salary increase of 15% while the employers were offering a mere 8%. In addition, the workers’ union was demanding a housing allowance of R1 000 for all workers as well as a complete end to all labour brokers. While there has been a lot of compromising on both sides with the workers coming down to 10% and the employers raising their offer to the same percentage, there may be some sticking points that, if not entirely resolved, may lead to more problems in future. Chief among these problems is the above issue of labour brokers, which the workers want scrapped. The employers, on the other hand, require that the worker organisation sign what it called a peace clause. This is a clause that prevents unions from pursuing other issues, which are not in the three-year deal, at plant or company level. This means Numsa would have to wait three years until the national bargaining council sits again to raise new issues. The union is unhappy with this scenario as, they claim, will make it difficult for them to down tools within the three years.
The walkout by engineering and metal workers had halted production at automakers and affected construction at new power plants in a country struggling with electricity supply. This is the reason why the labour department decided to take a very active interest in the negotiations of a settlement. In addition, the strike had been estimated to be costing the economy close to R300 million per day. This had been compounded by the disagreements in the two organisations which represent the employers were not in agreement. At one point, the representative of the smaller companies, the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa), was adamant that they would not be paying anything more than 8% but had capitulated after the intervention of the labour department. However, this has led to speculation of job cuts and downsizing by a number of companies.
If confirmed to be true, Labour Minister, Mildred Oliphant may be the happiest person in all this since Neasa had made strong indications that it would challenge any increase that was above 8% in the Labour Court.