Neasa loses in court

2014-12-07 15:00

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Minority employers’ group fails in bid to block wage agreement in the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council from getting extended

South Africa’s collective bargaining system fended off another challenge this week, safeguarding for now the beleaguered Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), which sets wages in much of the manufacturing sector – and underpins the powerful role of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) in the economy.

On Monday, the insurgent minority employers’ group, the National Employers’ Association of SA (Neasa), lost its latest labour court bid to block this year’s wage agreement in the MEIBC from getting extended to all employers.

Neasa immediately pledged to appeal the decision and carry on its long campaign against the single most important node of collective bargaining in the private sector.

The deal was signed by Numsa and the dominant employer group, the Steel and Engineering Industry Federation of SA (Seifsa), after the protracted strike in July.

Neasa refused to sign it and then sought an interdict against the MEIBC, asking the minister of labour to extend the deal to the whole sector.

This case is only the latest turn in a long battle by Neasa to undermine the ability of

Seifsa and Numsa to, in effect, set everyone else’s wages, which Neasa claims results in wages appropriate for large employers, not its constituency of smaller companies.

The judgment handed down by Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker this week was scathing of Neasa’s arguments, which revolve around a wide range of procedural faults in the MEIBC, including the election of its management.

It boils down to Neasa claiming the MEIBC’s management is illegitimate and, as a consequence, can’t legitimately request an extension of wage deals.

Rabkin-Naicker said the argument would lead to “insensible results” and derail the whole MEIBC.

The labour law explicitly contains safeguards against collective bargaining being undermined due to technical faults in bargaining councils, she reasoned in her judgment.

Practically, the judgment this week allows the MEIBC to ask the minister to extend the wage deal, which will result in extra back pay for all the workers who are not unionised or working for Seifsa members as they catch up to their colleagues, for whom the deal is already in effect.

Apart from Neasa’s promised appeal against this week’s judgment, the employer group might also be heading for a new conflict with Seifsa and Numsa early next year.

In February, the MEIBC will hold a special meeting on its various levy agreements, according to the MEIBC’s general secretary, Thulani Mthiyane.

Mostly, these fund the MEIBC itself.

The important Collective Bargaining Levy Agreement funds Numsa and the other unions in the sector.

It imposes a levy of 1% of the wages of all nonunionised workers who benefit from the MEIBC’s agreements, which are won by unions funded by their members’ contributions.

Like wage deals, levy agreements also need to be extended to nonparties.


The South African labour landscape is rapidly reshaping itself after Numsa’s expulsion from Cosatu.

Following the dramatic demise of the National Union of Mineworkers in the platinum sector thanks to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, every major sector will soon become contested ground.

With Numsa intent on becoming a general union operating in the traditional domains of Cosatu unions, Cosatu has seemingly retaliated.

A new Liberated Metalworkers Union of SA, under the leadership of former Numsa president Cedric Gina, registered with the department of labour last Friday.

On Thursday this week, a new public sector union was launched to take on Cosatu’s remaining strongholds.

Minority employers’ group fails in bid to block wage agreement in the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council from getting extended.

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