Trade union Solidarity announced on Thursday that it would pursue bilateral talks with employer organisations in the metals and engineering sector in a bid to break a three-week deadlock in wage negotiations.
Talks at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) broke down on June 15 and it has been reported that unions in the sector are currently seeking a certificate to strike.
Solidarity deputy general-secretary for the metals and engineering industry Marius Croucamp said in a statement that the union was determined to avoid a strike in the “beleaguered” industry, where jobs were under threat. He added that a strike would cause major harm to the industry, as well as the MEIBC.
A three-pronged strategy would be pursued, starting with a request that MEIBC extend negotiations. Should this approach fail, Solidarity would approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to intervene.
Thirdly, the union might pursue direct talks with those small- and medium-sized enterprises that have expressed concern over their ongoing sustainability should a strike be called.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) confirmed this week that it would be engaging directly with the unions in an effort to avoid “devastating” industrial action.
Seifsa’s move was criticised, however, by the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa), which felt direct talks between Seifsa and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), in particular, could result in a settlement that placed smaller firms in the sector in peril.
“Once again, history is repeating itself. When the weak and devious Seifsa talks to Numsa, the industry is in grave danger,” Neasa said in a statement.
However, Seifsa said it had no intention of concluding a deal that would worsen the situation. “Instead, in these bilateral engagements we will seek to conclude a realistic settlement acceptable to our members.”
Croucamp indicated that Solidarity was in favour on “just one industry agreement” signed by all parties.
Numsa said earlier this month that it had no intention of backing down from its 15% wage demand and indicated that a strike certificate could be issued by July 15. Talks deadlocked when employers stuck to their offer of 5.4%.