The battle behind the Numsa strike

2014-07-13 15:00

The two week-long strike led by metal workers’ union Numsa could be just the first round in a battle to win wage increases in the metals and engineering sector this year.

There was no sign of a deal on Friday but even when one does come, it is not yet certain who it will apply to.

The department of labour is due to complete a new membership verification of all the unions and employer groups in the sector’s bargaining council, the MEIBC, this month.

Those figures will determine how easily the wage deal will be extended to that half of the sector that is not unionised or organised in employer groups.

This requires a strict majority, or something close to it, in terms of labour law.

The MEIBC’s general secretary, Thulani Mthiyane, told City Press this week he is confident his council will emerge as representative, but there is significant uncertainty.

There is every indication that neither the dominant union Numsa, nor employer federation Seifsa, are quite as massive as they claim to be.

While Numsa publicly claims it has 220?000 members in the sector, it probably has closer to 100?000 while the union officially only claims 153?000.

If the numbers surprise on the low side, it would give valuable ammunition to minority employers’ groups that are already actively trying to subvert the extension of the MEIBC wages to the whole sector.

The MEIBC has estimated that the combined employer camp (Seifsa and minority grouping Neasa) represents just more than 50% of the sector’s employment – a very slim majority.

A previous verification exercise in 2007 found that the employers represent 60% of the workforce while the unions represent 59%.

At the moment, trade unions are assumed to represent 61% of the relevant workers while employer groups represent 54%.

There are 421?000 workers within the scope of the MEIBC, but only 355?000 fall under the main agreement, as far as the council knows.

“This might go up, it might go down,” says Mthiyane, referring to the department’s current verification process.

For the new audit, the MEIBC gave the figures “it would defend in court”, says Mthiyane.

But the department has come back with a “preliminary” number of only 100?000 Numsa members – lower than the number the MEIBC provided.

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