NUMSA statement on progress in the 2016 bargaining round

As soon as the 2016 bargaining negotiation began, it became clear that the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) had been proved right to predict fierce battles between workers and employers this year.
Ahead of the 2017 collective bargaining processes in the metal and engineering sector, Numsa was forced to declare a dispute with employers over the fate of the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (Meibc), which is a dispute over the future of centralised collective bargaining as a whole.
The employers’ organisations, which include the National Employers’ Association of SA (Neasa) and the SA Engineers and Founders Association (Seifsa), are refusing to agree to the extension of levy agreements to Meibc by non-party members, which lapsed on 30 May 2016.
Employers have also refused to agree to the council’s budget which included an 18% increase in levies for 2016/17 financial year. It has not received an increase since 2011, thereby resulting in a very serious inability to service and manage the affairs of the bargaining council.
The Meibc is concerned that it will have to function without 20% to 30% of its income from 1 July. It is clear that these employers want to destroy collective bargaining throughout these sectors. They are emboldened by the recent court judgement obtained by the Free Market Foundation which spelled out how employers can deal with the extension of bargaining agreements to other employers who are not party to such agreements.
Numsa’s view is reinforced by the fact that earlier its General Secretary had met Seifsa to discuss how best we can save the Meibc. They agreed on possible terms of an agreement that could be reached on issues such as how to ensure that the backlog of cases are allocated to CCMA commissioners, to reach agreement on effecting an increase in the bargaining levy, that parties consider extending collective bargaining agreements to 2020 and that a sub-committee of the senior leadership of employers and unions be set up to develop a turnaround strategy to resolve the financial challenges confronting the Meibc.
Yet after this meeting, Seifsa held a meeting which rejected all the commitments that they had just made to turn Meibc around and embarked on a strategy aimed at sabotaging and collapsing it.
They, with Neasa, demanded a forensic audit of the Meibc’s finances, the appointment of an oversight committee to oversee the forensic audit and the convening of an AGM to populate the employers’ seat’. Numsa has no problem with these calls but believes that they are just a pretext to give employers time to fatally undermine the bargaining council.
We know that employers are divided. Some oppose the collapse of centralised bargaining, but there are right-wing hotheads like Neasa who are aligned with the FMF and even want to renege on the current three-year agreement in the engineering sector and not to implement wage increases already agreed.
Numsa has therefore issued a certificate of non-resolution and declared a dispute against the employers’ agenda. At a further meeting with Seifsa on 6 June 2016, Numsa demanded that they implement what they had agree to at the earlier meeting – including reaching an agreement on effecting an increase in the bargaining levy, and setting up a sub-committee of the senior leadership of employers and unions to develop a turnaround strategy to resolve the financial challenges confronting the Meibc.
Numsa reaffirms that we are not opposed to a forensic audit of Meibc, but insist that this cannot be used as an excuse to delay or stop the implementation of measures to save the council.
The implication of a collapsed bargaining council will be devastating for workers, particularly as employers will not collect retirement funds for workers and put the future of the Metal Industries Benefit Funds Administrators (Mibfa) in jeopardy.
This campaign to defend centralised collective bargaining will be the mother of all battles. While still seeking to resolve this dispute around a table, Numsa is to embark on a programme of rolling mass action in defence of collective bargaining and all the gains secured in the last round of negotiations.
It is also not a dispute just in the metal and engineering sectors. Numsa can confirm that in the first round of negotiations in the auto, tyre and motor sectors employers are also taking a tough line. In particular they are opposed to the demand for one-year agreements.
The auto employers say that Numsa’s demands are too high for one year and they would prefer a three-year agreement. In the tyre sector, negotiations have collapsed because employers are refusing to negotiate directly with the unions as they have appointed a consultant, Johnny Goldberg, to negotiate on their behalf, which Numsa rejects. The union is seeking a meeting with the CEOs to resolve this impasse.
In the motor sector employers are against the one-year agreement and are requesting a high level meeting with the Numsa national leadership to explain themselves. A process is underway to convene a bilateral meeting on 7th June 2016 to deal with this.
Eskom have offered only a below-inflation 5.5% increase and there is no progress on 31 other demands. Numsa is seeking a meeting the NUM and Solidarity to wage a united campaign, and, should Eskom not increase their abysmal offer, we shall consider strike action by what we identify as non-essential employees.
Numsa will stick to its insistence on one-year agreements which is more vital than ever given the increasing level of inflation in the cost of basic items, including food, where prices rose by 11.3% in the year up to April 2016.
All those on fixed incomes are a lot worse off than a year ago, which is why we are insisting on real increases and not just amounts that reduce the drop in income they have already suffered.
Numsa will not compromise our members’ interests. The employers in our sectors must make real offers to settle, based on the demands which our National Bargaining
Conference agreed to put forward in all sectors:
– One-year agreement for 2016-2017
– 20% wage increases
– Extension of agreements to salaried staff
– Medical aid schemes to be paid on the basis of 80% by employers, 20% by employees
– Insourcing of outsourced work
– R5000 per month housing allowance
– Ban labour brokers
We will never accept that workers must pay for an economic crisis that is none of their making, but a structural crisis of a global monopoly capitalist system and is calling on all members and other workers to join the campaign to defend and improve their job security, living standards and conditions of employment, for all of which collective bargaining is an essential safeguard.
Numsa is emboldened by the wave of strikes by French workers who face exactly the same challenges as we do in South Africa – an attempt to undermine hard-won workers’ rights by ‘liberalising’ the country’s labour laws to make it easier for employers to retrench workers and cut wages. We extend our solidarity to our fellow workers. Workers of the world unite!
Irvin Jim
General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa
073 157 6384