By Staff Reporter
On Thursday, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) ended its 3-week-long strike in the metal and steel sector, which bled hundreds of millions and cost organised labour R200-million.
Around 170 thousand workers, representing the industries that NUMSA holds sway in, will now return to work, starting from Friday, with most returning on the 25 October.
A compromise offer of 5.4% across all categories was concluded, with those in the lowest category slated to earn approximately R 12,734 monthly, up from R 12,500 before the strike. The agreement is scheduled to run until 2024, with workers receiving around 5% increases each year in October 2022 and 2023, above current inflation rates.
The increase will be backdated from July. However, the 3-week strike was implemented on a no-work no-pay basis, meaning that workers will have lost in the short term. NUMSA General Secretary, Irvin Jim, was thus forced to argue that wage negotiations were all about compromise and that the union was trying to ensure more humane conditions for workers and not trying to be greedy.
NUMSA initially demanded 15%, with the industry body, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA), offering 4.2%. SEIFSA increased its offer to 6% last week. However, NUMSA stood firm on a revised 8% demand but was largely forced to accept the lower offer, leading some to argue that the strike could have been averted a week earlier, saving workers some of their lost wages.
Iron ore prices have doubled in 2021, following their tremendous losses in 2020 due to the Coronavirus, and were sighted as the reason for NUMSA’s very high wage demand.
The other institutions in the industry, the National Engineering Association of South Africa (NEASA) and South African Engineers and Founders Association (SAEFA), have not conceded to the agreement, meaning that employees working in companies controlled by them will not receive the 6% increase.
NEASA have argued that they primarily represent small and medium industries that have suffered from the pandemic and lockdown and cannot afford the more significant amount.
This now means that the agreement will need to be concluded with the other two bodies before it can be gazetted to ensure a new minimum standard of pay in the industry, which was last updated in 2014.