Strike over but Neasa continues lock-out

Johannesburg - Six unions in the metals and engineering sector signed a wage deal with most employers on Tuesday, bringing a four-week strike to an end.

But one of the employer bodies, the National Employers' Association of SA (Neasa) refused to sign the offer, saying it had been sidelined in the negotiation process, facilitated by the labour department.

As a result, Neasa, which has 22 members and employs about 70 000 workers, has vowed to continue with a lock-out of striking workers.

"The dispute still exists and our lock-out remains in place," said Neasa's national collective bargaining coordinator Jaco Swart.

Over 200 000 Numsa members in the metal and engineering sector downed tools on July 1, demanding a salary increase of 12%, down from their pre-strike demand of 15%. They also demanded a R1 000 housing allowance, and a total ban on labour brokers.

After signing the agreement, National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim called on its members working night shifts to continue picketing outside Neasa plants.

"We ended the strike yesterday [Monday]. We are simply calling our members to occupy those plants in solidarity [with our members]," Jim told reporters in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.

Numsa, Solidarity, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of SA, Uasa, and the SA Equity Workers Association all signed the wage agreement with employers on Tuesday afternoon.

According to the new wage deal, workers would get increases of between 8% and 10%, depending on whether they were high or low earners.

Five of the seven employer parties, including the main employer body, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA, signed the deal. The SA United Employers Organisation was not present at the signing ceremony.

"It's a pity that some have announced that they are not signing," said Jim.

What Neasa wants

But Neasa's Swart said he was "extremely disappointed and dissatisfied" with the negotiation process. As was done in the past, a backroom agreement was made with two main parties, he said.

Neasa wanted a standardised entry level wage and a revamped exemptions policy. It also wanted an 8% across the board salary increase.

Swart said not all Neasa companies were obliged to lock their employees out. If they wanted to bring back their workers to fulfil their business needs they were welcome to do so, but the continued lockout was the general consensus of the association.

The labour department and Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration facilitated talks between Seifsa and unions earlier this month when negotiations between the parties deadlocked.

Neasa said earlier this week that if the labour minister decided to extend this agreement to parties who did not sign the agreement, it would turn to the Labour Court to have it set aside.

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