Statement on the status of Engineering/Metals sector wage negotiations and demands of Workers

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) representing more than 220 000 super-exploited workers in the strategic layer of our economy – the Engineering/Metals sector, might embark on a full-blown strike, as from the beginning of July 01, 2014.
The anticipated strike action is due to the fact that the employers in the industry have arrogantly failed to meet our demands.
Already the Spokespersons of capital have punted our anticipated strike as a deliberate attempt by Numsa elected leadership to flex its political muscle in order to undermine the governing party – the African National Congress (ANC).
False alarm bells are being raised that if Numsa goes on strike as anticipated, our country, which is bleeding and shedding jobs, might suffer a second bug of the recession.
Interestingly, none of these Spokespersons of capital are condemning the bosses’ continued onslaught against our hard-fought collective bargaining dispensation.
The negotiations were held at the backdrop of a soaring crisis at the main center of global capitalism and imperialism – the United States (US) and Europe, where there is massive shrinking of manufacturing, and a shift into insecure services, especially finance, retail, security and so-called “knowledge production” tertiary sectors. Despite the slowdown in the global economy, capital continues to make huge profits by increasing the suffering of the working class.
In our own South African context, the negotiations took place amidst the ideological fog being spread by the politicians of “a good story to tell”, whilst our people, especially the working class and the poor, are confronted with the crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
This crisis is a result of the failures by the African National Congress (ANC)-led government to radically transform the ownership and control patterns of the South African economy, as expressed in the Freedom Charter.
We have long maintained this position.  Therefore it is not about flexing of political muscles to undermine the new administration, as spokespersons of white monopoly capital are saying.
On a daily basis, we are being fed lies that the neoliberal National Development Plan (NDP) is a good story vision, and that our country has become a better place to live since the negotiated settlement of 1994. However we know that there has already been a failure to achieve Vision 2014, which was presented to us in 2004.
Overall, the 20 years of democracy has been a disastrous to the working class of our country. It has been 20 years of:

  • higher rates of racialised poverty and unemployment;
  • higher levels of inequality,
  • inferior education system;
  • collapsed public health-care;
  • dehumanizing living conditions;

In fact, this has been a bad story to tell for the majority of our people, and a good story to tell by White monopoly capital, which has benefited immensely since the dawn of democracy. The past 20 years have been white monopoly capitalist democracy.
Most of our members organised in this sector live in shacks and informal settlements, their wages are insufficient to afford decent housing and other important basic necessities.
The bosses use the squalid conditions of our members as the basis to refuse them decent wages in order for them to afford a decent life.  The bosses are only interested in extracting huge profits from our labour and exporting them to the capitalist centers in London, Germany, New York and Sandton.
Our lowest paid members, those who work in gate and fencing and contract workers for capital built projects such as Medupi and Kusile earn a paltry R3050 per month while it is common cause that these contracting companies are reaping millions of rands from their contracts with Eskom. The 15% increase we are demanding will only improve their salaries by R450 a month. How can this be construed as an outrageous demand? General engineering scheduled employees earn poverty wages of R5300 per month while the CEOs in this industry continue to earn millions. We doubt that these overpaid representatives of the capitalist class spend less than R5300 on just their cellphone costs for the month while workers are supposed to carve out an existence on this pittance of a salary. Gary Bell, the CEO of Bell Equipment took home R3.1 million in 2011, nearly 50 times more than his own workers who he expects to be productive and enthusiastic on a daily basis.
Over 20% of workers’ disposable income is spent on the cost of transport because of the persisting legacy of apartheid social engineering, and its settlement patterns, which has ensured that Africans in particular and Blacks in general, live far from workplaces.
The bargaining negotiations have spectacularly failed to produce the desired outcomes as expected by the thousands of our members in the sector.
The employer bodies, particularly Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA), National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA) and Boarder Industry Association (BIA) are hell-bent on retaining and perpetuating the colonial apartheid wage income disparities.
The first phase of the negotiations took place on the week of March 26-27, 2014; the second phase on the week of April 16, 2014; third phase on the week of May 8-9, 2014; fourth phase on the week of May 21-23, 2014; fifth phase on week of May 28-29.
On May 30, 2014 we declared a dispute with the employer bodies under the auspices of Metal and Engineering Bargaining Council (MEIBC).
We declared the dispute purely because we strongly believe that we have exhausted all possible avenues for employers to concede to our demands, as mandated by our members.
We went to these Engineering and Metals sector wage negotiations guided by the following principles, which underpinned our Collective Bargaining Strategy:

  • Closing the colonial apartheid wage gap, fighting for equity in the workplace and demanding a Living Wage;
  • No to down variation to the worker’s conditions of employment;
  • The democratization of the workplace;
  • Reduce excessive pay for the Bosses;
  • Developing the skills of the workforce that was deprived of that development during colonial-apartheid past; AND
  • Use the collective bargaining to organise the unorganised and thereby growing Numsa into a formidable fighting force.

We are currently busy consulting our members across the length and breadth of our country as part of our “Ear to the Ground Campaign”, to renew our mandates since the negotiations have reached a dead-end.
It is quite evident that the employers are imposing a strike onto us; and the strike has never been on our agenda, purely because our core demands are affordable.
But as a worker-controlled union, we will afford our members an opportunity to determine our next course of action, as part of exploring other strategies to be applied to exert pressure on the bosses to concede to our demands.
Drawing from our past experiences, a strike is inevitable.
We are fully aware of the huge burden the strike can have on our members, since the bourgeois principle of No Work! No Pay will be applied by the bosses.
However, reading from the mood of our members, it is a sacrifice they are ready to make, conscious of the fact that their united power can shake the bosses and halt production.
In the event the strike takes place, the following key sectors will be heavily affected, namely foundries, electronics and telecommunications, plastic, fabrication industries, machinery and equipment, automotive components sector, electrical engineering, basic metals, heavy and light engineering, gate and fence, and construction engineering.
Major companies that will be affected include Scaw Metals, Bell Equipment, CBI, Union Carriage and Wagon, Dorbyl, Marley Pipe Stystem and Dana Spicer Axle amongst others. Some of these companies supply critical parts to the auto industry and could have a disastrous impact on their already strained supply obligations. We currently have a crisis of security of supply of electricity and if the strike commences, ongoing work at Medupi, Kusile and Ingqurha will be delayed. Employers in the metals and engineering industry will have to take full responsibility for the repercussions this strike will have on the economy as a result of their intransigence. Workers have nothing to offer to themselves.
These are our core demands;

  1. 15% wage increase;
  2. 1 year bargaining agreement;
  3. Scrapping of Labour Brokers;
  4. Wage negotiations must benefit all workers irrespective of salaried or wage earners;
  5. Extension of the scope of the Main Agreement; AND
  6. Remove the short and layoff from the Main Agreement.

Our demands should be located and understood within the context of rising cost of living, excessive executive pay and high inequality, grinding poverty and crisis of unemployment in our country.
Once again, Eskom is offering workers a pathetic 4.3% increase in salaries, far below the inflation rate and which therefore translates into a wage cut. This takes place at a time when Eskom is requesting R500 million for renovations at their head office. The former CEO of Eskom took home R8.64 million last year while the total remuneration to directors last year amounted to over R52 million. This is daylight robbery of state resources that should be directed to ensuring security of supply and offering workers a living wage. Numsa is finally ready to take to the streets and withdraw its labour at an unprecedented level, we will not be held hostage by essential service designations and the union will not be responsible for any consequences that arise from workers being forced to strike.
Lastly, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa sends our militant solidarity to the courageous workers who are currently on strike on the Platinum Belt. Their ongoing battle exposes the fact that the South African working class rejects the continued super exploitation of black and African labour. Metalworkers join the voices of these workers in demanding the end of colonial wage patterns. Numsa calls on the employers in the platinum mining industry to meet the demands of these workers.
We call on all employers in the industry to use this period between now and 30 June to come to the table and make an offer that meets the fair and just demands of our members failing which we will strike as our last resort.
Issued by National Office Bearers (NOBs’)
Castro Ngobese
National Spokesperson
Mobile: 0836275197
Tel (dir): 0116891702
Twitter: @castrongobese