FIFI PETERS: Another big story today is about the developments regarding the strike in the steel and manufacturing sector that has been under way for the past two weeks, which has cost the economy dearly in terms of R600 million in total, split across the wages that the workers lost, as well as the output that the industry lost. But it looks like things have settled and that both parties have reached a deal.
We have Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, who is the national spokesperson of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, or Numsa, on the Market Update. Phakamile, always a pleasure. I see you have settled at a 6% increase for Numsa. Just give us the detail around the settlement.
PHAKAMILE HLUBI-MAJOLA: Sure. Thank you so much for having me on your show and good afternoon, Fifi. Thank you. Indeed the announcement that we set out to make today was that, after much deliberation, as a trade union we decided to accept the current 6% on minimum [explanation follows], despite our earlier demand that it be given in actual. We held a special NEC [national executive council meeting] yesterday where all Numsa regions debated this at length, and we came to a conclusion that, given the circumstances that we’re facing, given that this is the third week of the strike, given that we are closer than we’ve ever been, it’s probably worthwhile to compromise at this point and accept the proposal that Seifsa [the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa] had given us.
FIFI PETERS: Okay. Just explain to us the difference between the ‘minimum’ and ‘actual’.
PHAKAMILE HLUBI-MAJOLA: What Numsa members had initially demanded was that while Seifsa had made an offer that they wanted to give us an increase on the minimum rate of pay, members said they wanted it to be given on what they actually earned. Just to give you an example, in the engineering sector the minimum grade, the lowest grade, is Grade H, and the minimum rate under Grade H is R49.55. What members were saying when we talked about the ‘actual’ rate meant that instead of the increase being based on the grade determination of what the minimum rate is in that grade, give us the 6% according to what members actually earn, because you might find that in Grade H there are some earning slightly more than R49.55, and they wanted an increase based on what they actually earned.
Why this was a demand was because we’re not just negotiating on behalf of workers who are part of Seifsa, who are earning the minimum wage of R49.55, we are negotiating on behalf of all workers in engineering. There are many, the majority of whom are outside of Seifsa, whose rates are far lower than what is stipulated as part of the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council – that minimum rate of R49.44.
FIFI PETERS: Okay. How long is this deal being placed for? What period does it cover?
PHAKAMILE HLUBI-MAJOLA: This is a three-year agreement, starting from this year and ending after three years. Effectively what we’re saying is that for us this was the deal that came closest in terms of what we were looking for. You will recall, Fifi, that when we started the strike we were demanding 8%. In our discussions with employers we have now settled on 6%.
FIFI PETERS: And when are workers back at work?
PHAKAMILE HLUBI-MAJOLA: We are saying that employers must give them until Monday. Some are out of town, so it’s been a process to try and get this message to all employees in all regions. But this is the agreement that we’ve come to with Seifsa. We have not yet signed, but this is the proposal that members have agreed to accept. We will be signing with Seifsa this evening.
FIFI PETERS: They were supposed to have a press briefing, earlier, Seifsa. It subsequently got cancelled. Do you know why?
PHAKAMILE HLUBI-MAJOLA: No idea.
FIFI PETERS: Okay. Phakamile, thanks so much for joining the Market Update. At least we do have some stability there in the steel and manufacturing sector for the next three years regarding issues around wages, which I’m sure does come as a big relief for all stakeholders and parties involved.