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The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) is continuing to threaten strike action in the ongoing wage negotiations in the engineering sector. The union has stuck to its demands of a 15% raise while employers are offering 5.3%.

Charles Castle AfriBusinessThe South African Engineers and Founders Association (Saefa) has said that Numsa seems to have no desire to avoid a strike in the sector despite the negative financial impact it could have on employees. Numsa, however, has described itself at “the point of no return”.

“Wage talks between ourselves and the employer began in early June. We deadlocked already by the middle of June and since then we've been engaged with four wage talks that have failed. Essentially, we're very far apart on the demands that have been placed on the table,” says Phakamile Hlubi, acting Numsa spokesperson.

“In engineering, Numsa has worked really hard to secure a minimum rate of R40 an hour and what's happening now is that employers are actually trying to erode that benefit and all of that hard work. And what they've put on the table is that they want workers who are coming into the sector, young new workers, to earn half of that which is R20 an hour. That is effectively what has brought us to the point where we are now on the verge of a national shut down.”

Should the strike go ahead, AfriBusiness has said it would cause “irreparable damage” to the economy. Charles Castle Labour Law Advice Unit Manager at AfriBusiness, says that the strike would harm, rather than benefit, the workers, adding that if Numsa proceeds with its strike, the sector should expect more retrenchments and job losses.

“We understand the economic difficulties that employees in these sectors face. Considering the current economic situation of South Africa, it is irrational and unjust to employers and workers alike to embark on a strike as a result of unreasonable demands. Employers will be left with no other alternative but to commence with retrenchments as a result of affordability and profit margins,” Castle said in a statement.

If the strike goes ahead, foundries, electronics and telecommunications, the plastic and fabrication industries, machinery and equipment, electrical engineering, basic metals, heavy and light engineering, as well as construction engineering companies, will be affected. Companies which supply critical parts to the auto industry, including Auto Industrial, Bell Equipment, CBI, Union Carriage and Wagon, Dorbyl, Marley Pipe System and Dana Spicer Axle among others, could also be affected by the strike, while ongoing work at Eskom power stations Medupi, Kusile and Ingqurha, may also incur further delays.

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