Numsa wants double-digit increase in auto wage talks - even if it means a strike

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Numsa called on all engineering workers across the country to down tools and fight for a living wage.
Numsa called on all engineering workers across the country to down tools and fight for a living wage.
Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa secretary-general, Irvin Jim, said members at the automobile sector wage talks want a double-digit increase.
  • Jim said the automobile sector enjoyed a strong recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic's national lockdown and government subsidies.
  • Numsa president Andrew Chirwa said while it would be a last resort the union was capable of coordinating strike action if employers negotiate in bad faith.
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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members are dead set on a double-digit increase in its wage negotiations with the automotive sector, and are willing to strike in order to achieve it, secretary-general Irvin Jim said on Wednesday.

Jim was briefing reporters on the outcomes of the union's special committee meeting which took place in Boksburg on Monday and Tuesday.

The automobile sector wage negotiations started last week, although labour did not immediately table a formal offer at the talks.

Numsa will be negotiating with the Automobile Manufacturers Employers' Organisation (AMEO) and the National Employers' Association of South Africa. In 2019, labour and employers signed a three-year deal where workers got a 9% increase in the first and second years. In the third year, workers received an increase in line with consumer inflation.

READ | Numsa to hold conference, elect new leadership in late July

Jim said the union has so far held three sessions with AMEO for pre-bargaining where it dealt with the state of the industry. He said the union unpacked why it believed the sector should move quickly to honour the demands of workers.

He said it would be difficult to dissuade Numsa members in the sector that a double-digit increase is not possible, as the sector has recovered from the economic downturns of the Covid-19 pandemic and has enjoyed subsidies from the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition (DTIC).

"Workers want a double-digit increase. The double digit can be between 10% and 20% depending on how we can successfully move the other party to agree on a settlement wage. From where we are sitting it is a profitable business. It enjoys support from DTIC," said Jim.

Jim said Numsa was of the view that bosses could afford "a fair increase" and that the union was prepared to negotiate in good faith for one.

"The industry has not had a strike every year and it is about time that they make an offer that improves workers’ lives. Numsa is a campaigning union, despite our detractors who say we don't. We wrestle with bosses in all sectors to improve workers' conditions," Jim said.

READ | Saftu plans August 'shutdown' over Eskom, economic crisis - Vavi

Jim said workers were also interested in ensuring career progression for themselves and established career paths to the management level. He said labour's co-operation in the negotiations will depend entirely on the employers' openness and willingness to engage workers and their demands.

"There is a possibility that if employers in auto and motor [do not]...  give workers in garages or component value chain any increases, I can tell you now, workers want an increase. If we must go on strike, for us a strike is a last resort, but we are telling employers not to walk through these negotiations," he said.

Numsa president Andrew Chirwa  said the union does automatically go in with a plan to disrupt businesses with industrial action but is capable of co-ordinating it if it finds that employers are negotiating in bad faith. 

"The issue of strike is a last resort. But it is determined by employers. It is not something we wake up and plan. It is a difficult thing and workers lose. But when we have no choice, as a last resort, if employers do not listen, we will strike," said Chirwa.

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