The possibility of a strike in the motor sector has increased significantly after a two-day Motor Industry Bargaining Council (Mibco) dispute resolution committee meeting with unions and employers failed to break the deadlock in negotiations over a new agreement.
The sector employs about 306 000 workers nationally, with the motor retail, fuel and automotive component manufacturing sectors falling under the Mibco.
Any strike in the automotive component manufacturing sector is likely to have a knock-on effect on vehicle manufacturers and, depending on the duration of any strike, force locally based vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to suspend production because of a shortage of components.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim said on Thursday the failure of engagements with the employers in the motor sector, including the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the Fuel Retailers Association (FRA), means “we are now at the point where we are forced to declare a deadlock”.
Jim said Numsa will be organising National Shop Stewards Council meetings in the coming weeks with its members in order to mobilise them.
“We will also wait for a date from the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] for conciliation to deal with picketing rules. We are at the mercy of the CCMA and employers,” he said.
“The ball is in their court. They have the power to stop the looming national strike in the motor sector if they put a meaningful offer on the table. We are always ready to talk and there is still time to avert a strike.”
RMI chief negotiator Jacques Viljoen said it is concerning that Numsa, which according to audited membership numbers represents only 18% of the sector with 57 000 members, is threatening industrial action.
Viljoen said industrial action could pose a serious challenge for the recovery of the sector following the recent national state of disaster and the civil unrest in 2021.
He stressed that the RMI places a high premium on labour stability and industry peace and is taking these negotiations extremely seriously. Viljoen denied a Numsa claim that the RMI has not yet tabled an offer.
“Until recently, much time was spent on the identification of core non-wage demands from the trade unions, which have been dealt with. On 3 August 2022, the RMI tabled a wage offer, which is aligned to inflation forecasts for the intended three-year period of the collective agreement, to the general secretary and party heads,” he said.
The current collective agreement expires on 31 August.
The Mibco meeting collapsed on Wednesday when the FRA offered wage increases of 4% across the board for all fuel service station forecourt attendants, and 3% for cleaners and cashiers, in each year of a three-year agreement.
Jim said this proposal by the FRA is also on condition that Numsa drop all its other demands.
“It is unfortunate the FRA made an offer Numsa cannot accept. The RMI was expected to make an offer but they have not yet done so,” he said.
Numsa’s demands include:
A 12% across the board wage increase;
The overtime rate to be in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act for Chapter 3 workers (automotive component manufacturing employees);
Night shift and transport allowance for garage workers;
Amendments to the peace clause to allow Numsa to raise issues in the workplace that are not covered by the Mibco collective agreement; and
Social benefits such as medical aid for garage workers.
Mark Roberts, sector coordinator for automotive component manufacturers, said they have had quite a few sessions in this season of negotiations and spent a lot of time on reducing the number of issues on the table.
Roberts pointed out that they submitted an opening offer on Wednesday of a 5% wage increase in each year of a three-year agreement, with a sincere plea that all of the other items Numsa is demanding are reduced to provide some further space to find each other and reach some sort of a settlement.
“A real challenge is that the CPI [consumer price index] is just going up and up and up. It becomes really difficult to start chasing the CPI. We have to try to fix a realistic point at which to settle. What is fundamental to us, as it is for the other big sectors, is to get a multi-year agreement,” he said.
Roberts added that the tone of negotiations until now has been “very constructive, very cordial”.
He confirmed that Numsa declared a dispute a while ago, which triggered the current mediation process, and has embarked on the requirement to make the necessary picketing arrangements for a strike.
But Roberts said they have appealed to Numsa to continue to talk and are waiting for further bilateral sessions with Numsa next week “to try and find each other”.
“I don’t think we are that far apart,” he added.
Sonja Carstens, a spokesperson for the Motor Industry Staff Association (Misa), the other union involved in the Mibco negotiations, said it represents 55 712 employees in the motor sector, including administrative staff at dealerships, workshop employees such as technicians and mechanics, and fuel attendants.
Carstens said Misa’s demands include:
A minimum wage increase of 9.5%;
An amendment to the short-time clause because the current wording is creating challenges in the industry;
A review of the calculation of retrenchment pay and accrued leave pay, and the suspension of commission earners because the current calculations exclude commission and incentives; and
The implementation of measures on the elimination of violence and harassment to ensure the provision of safe workplaces for all.
Carstens said the RMI has tabled a three-year wage offer ranging from 4% to 5% depending on the sector.
“Misa only received the first offer from the RMI in response to our demands late yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon,” she said. “The union’s leadership will study the RMI’s proposal and respond.”