Fresh hope to end metalworkers strike

Johannesburg - Labour unions representing striking metalworkers have submitted a lower wage demand to employers to try to end the walkout battering the economy.

More than 200 000 metal and engineering workers downed tools at the start of the month demanding wage increases of between 12% to 15%.

Six striking unions have been meeting with employers over the weekend in an effort to end the strike.

New proposal

The new proposal is for a three-year agreement with annual increases of 8% or 10% depending on pay grade, said Johan van Niekerk, a spokesperson for the United Association of South Africa, a smaller union in the talks.

"We're very close to each other," van Niekerk said. "By Tuesday morning if we get a favourable response from employers, it could be the end of the strike."

Both van Niekerk and Marius Croucamp, a spokesperson for the Solidarity union, which is participating in the talks because its workers have been locked out by the strike, said the main National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) had backed the proposal.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim confirmed there was "a proposal on the table" but he declined to give further details.

A spokesperson for the main employer group was not immediately available for comment.

Numsa agreement critical

The unions are due to canvass their own members about the proposal on Monday, although the demand is within a previously mandated range, van Niekerk said, with unions and employers due to meet again on Tuesday.

But any last-minute opposition from Numsa, which is the country's main manufacturing union, would delay an end to the stoppage.

Numsa previously rejected an offer from employers for an increase of 10% followed by 9.5% in 2015 and 9% a year later.

Economic impact

The stoppage has disrupted the supply of auto components and construction work at Eskom's power stations. It has already forced US automaker Ford and others to halt production at their plants.

The walkout, coming just weeks after the end of a crippling five-month strike in the platinum industry, is the latest blow to the ailing economy and has further unnerved investors impatient with waves of labour unrest.

The metalworkers strike is likely to keep second-quarter growth depressed, although reserve bank governor, Gill Marcus, said she did not expect a recession.


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