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Metalworkers union starts indefinite strike, auto industry fears impact

‘We are left with no choice but to strike and to withhold our labour indefinitely until the bosses give into our just demands.’
Image: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

South Africa‘s biggest metalworkers union on Tuesday launched an indefinite strike to press for wage rises in the engineering sector, action that threatens to spill over and block supplies of parts to make new cars, industry and union officials said.

With around 155,000 members organised in the sector, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has called for a total shutdown of the engineering industry after wage talks with employer bodies deadlocked.

“We are left with no choice but to strike and to withhold our labour indefinitely until the bosses give into our just demands,” Numsa said.

The union organised marches and rallies across the country on Tuesday, with thousands attending a march in downtown Johannesburg.

Numsa had sought an 8% across-the-board wage rise in the first year of a pay deal, and an increase equal to the rate of inflation plus 2% for the following two years. Annual inflation is currently around 5%.

Industry body Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa had offered 4.4% for 2021, inflation plus 0.5% in 2022 and inflation plus 1% in the third year

Lucio Trentini, chief executive at the federation which represents more than 1,000 firms, from small family-owned businesses with less than 20 employees to large listed companies, said a poll among members on Tuesday showed a worker absenteeism rate of around 26%.

“And I fear … that this number will grow as the strike continues through the week,” he told Reuters.

Union demands

Trentini said they were in contact with Numsa to try and reach a “mutually acceptable” compromise and prevent a repeat of a damaging four-week strike in 2014 that cost the economy an estimated 6 billion rand ($398 million) in lost output.

Smaller union, UASA, said it was balloting members to determine if they also supported strike action, with a final decision expected on Friday.

South Africa‘s economy, including its export-focused auto sector, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, making employers reluctant to give in to union demands for above-inflation salary hikes.

Domestic car sales and vehicle production fell by roughly 30% last year, hitting major brands such as Ford, BMW and Nissan which all have local plants.

“We urge parties to speedily resolve the impasse and prevent long-term damage and possible line stoppages to vehicles being assembled in SA and abroad,” Renai Moothilal, executive director at the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers, told Reuters.

A Ford spokeswoman said they would not comment for now, while a Nissan spokeswoman said they were monitoring the situation “and do not foresee any impact on our side”.

COMMENTS   5

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The country is not in a big enough mess yet!! Lets crap in our own nest!!!

MW omitted the caption with the image. It should read: look, there go our jobs.

Good point. 34% of workers already stepping into the unemployment poop heap. These lucky workers (in the picture) are those ones that are going to pay “black tax” to their extended families.

The fewer the employed, the more the ‘black tax’ becomes, as a higher % is out of work expecting family handouts from those that still work.

They bite the hands that feed them paychecks…..

When the union makes you do it… interesting timing , just another brick in the road to the perfect country.

26 Years into socalled “democracy”, South Africa seems to experience more service delivery protests, and labour strikes compared to under the Apartheid regime.

So “the people” are even more unhappier now?

(Maybe for some companies in the metal industry, this could be convenient:

Company Financial Director to CEO:

“Peter, we have a costing problem, as we’re running at 50% capacity due to low customer orders. We need to ask our workers to work ONLY for 3 or 4 days a week from now on, to increase profitability. They won’t be happy, not their union.”

CEO to Fin.Director: “Don’t worry James, I have a plan. I’m going to find something to infuriate the unions, resulting in a labour strike. This way, workers GIVE THEMSELVES UNPAID LEAVE, without realising it.”
“Once strike is resolved, we’ll return to a 5-day workweek, and easily make up for lost production & use labour more effectively”

Fin.Director to CEO: “You need a Bells!”

End of comments.

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