Numsa to announce strike decision today

2014-07-27 15:00

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) will make an announcement about the ongoing strike in the metal and engineering sector today, according to spokesperson Castro Ngobese.

The strike is now almost in its fourth week, double the length of the strike during the sector’s previous wage talks in 2011.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa), the main employer group, has already put an acceptable wage offer on the table?–?three annual raises of 10% for lower-level employees and 8% for higher-paid workers.

Since then, the fight has revolved around the employers’ major counterdemand?–?a “tightening up” of section 37 of the sectoral bargaining council’s main agreement.

The clause regulates what can and cannot be negotiated separately by individual employers.

The employers want it amended to ban all plant-level talks about anything that can affect the “cost of employment”.

It is unlikely that any union will accept that broad a wording because practically anything can be construed as affecting cost.

In effect, employers want to block Numsa from taking its major non-wage issues to individual employers.

These include the use of labour brokers, as well as the employment tax incentive, but also the housing allowance Numsa was initially demanding when the strike started.

These are all fair game for plant-level talks and strikes under section 37 because they are not mentioned in the main agreement.

If the employers have any hope of getting section 37 amended, it will probably have to be in exchange for a significant concession.

The employers’ desire to patch up their main agreement follows recent labour court judgments that blew large holes in section 37 as it stands now.

A labour court case from May saw an employer, Vanachem Vanadium Products, trying to interdict a Numsa strike.

The company claimed the five demands Numsa was making could not be legitimate because they were not “issues of mutual interest”?–?and because section 37 already covered some of them.

Judge Andre van Niekerk disagreed.

Interestingly, one of the demands in that case was, in effect, for a ban on labour brokers, as has been the call in this strike.

At Vanachem, Numsa had demanded the “in-sourcing” of outsourced workers such as cleaners.

Vanachem said it “has no material bearing on?...?its employees” and that it was a “drastic and unjustifiable intrusion into the?...?managerial prerogative to operate by the most cost-effective means”.

Similarly, Seifsa insisted it was a “political” and not a real, employment-related demand.

Van Niekerk dismissed that argument out of hand.

He said “it is clearly a matter that is work-related, and therefore a matter of mutual interest”.

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