23 July 2014

South Africa: Striking Workers Consider Latest Wage Proposal

The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), the country's largest labor union, is considering the latest offer from employers aimed at ending a three-week strike in the country's steel and engineering sector.

At the intervention of the Labor Ministry, the Steel and Engineering Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) agreed Tuesday to increase by 10 percent the salaries of three categories of workers over the next three years.

But, SEIFSA reportedly threatened to take back the offer if the workers do not accept it by Friday.

Vuyo Lufele, Secretary-General for NUMSA in Western Cape Province, said the workers have long wanted a double-digit wage increase and are likely to accept the 10 percent offer.

But, he said if the employers want the strike to end, they should drop their demand to amend Section 37 of the collective bargaining agreement, which bars both employers and the union from renegotiating issues already agreed on.

"The employers have offered, finally, 10 percent for three years. But now, they've done that with a condition attached. You remember, there's a Section 37 of our collective bargaining agreement, which states that, if agreement has been signed, for the duration of the agreement no trade union will be allowed to negotiate on anything that is part of the collective agreement," he said.

Vuyo said the union will put the employers' latest offer before its members of more than 200,000 workers and report to the national executive committee on the way forward.

But, he said NUMSA members will oppose employers unless they drop their demand to amend Section 37.

He said the 10 percent offer will increase the salaries of three categories of workers over the next three years.

"This 10 percent covers a majority of our workers because, from the first year, Grades F, G and H will get 10 percent. And, on the second year, Grade G and H will get 10 percent, and then, on the third year, Grade H will get 10 percent. This is a proposed agreement that is coming from the Department of Labor and the facilitator, and employers are willing to give it to the workers, but with the condition that workers give up Section 37," he said.

Vuyo said he thinks workers would be willing to accept the 10 percent offer, but he reiterated that, if the employers want the strike to end, they should drop their demand to amend Section 37 of the bargaining agreement.

SEIFSA has reportedly said the strike is costing the industry over $28-million per day, and South Africa's Reserve Bank Governor has said the strike will lead to a slowdown in economic growth if it does not end soon.

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