By Erika van Zyl
Significant wage and employment negotiations, set to take place in Cape Town in June, are expected to ensure a sustainable future for the electrical industry for the next five years.
Mark Mfikoe, national director for the Electrical Contractors’ Association of South Africa (ECA(SA)) says that the South African Equity Workers’ Association (SAEWA) and the ECA(SA) are going to the negotiating table with “an historic five year agreement in mind to ensure labour peace and stability within the electrical contracting industry”.
Mfikoe says the current agreement, which has regulated conditions of service in the industry since 2014, ends on 31 January 2017. “The parties in the electrical industry have had the foresight to start negotiations early so that contractors and employers can more easily plan and adjust prices when tendering for projects that are due to start in 2017. Frequently, projects straddle financial years and construction contracts can take two or three years to complete. Knowing that the price of labour is predictable and that one can count on industrial peace for the duration of the agreement will ensure that contractors will be in a more comfortable commercial position, Mfikoe says, adding, “with this kind of planning, there won’t be a Marikana situation in the electrical contracting industry”.
“Long term employment conditions are not a luxury for South Africa anymore,” says Mfikoe, “and the mining, motor and other industries should equally appreciate the contribution that long term industrial peace can do for their industries. If there had been a long-term agreement at Medupi, the disruptions there could have been avoided.” He adds that the Medupi project has escalated from an initial cost projection of R75-billion to over R150-billion and the project, which was originally supposed to end in 2011, will now only be completed in 2021. “One of the reasons for the disruptions was labour unrest.”
Mfikoe says the matters to be negotiated include wages; allowances for night work, travelling and out of town; and social security benefits. “Social security benefits include the sick benefit fund; retirement funds, death benefits, funeral cover and disability benefits. The aim is to ensure that all employees in the electrical contracting industry enjoy these benefits. This also assists small and medium enterprises to participate in a collective effort to ensure social security for their employees where the funds are controlled by elected members of their representatives. In this way the industry looks after itself,” he explains. “Members and non-members of the union and the employers are being consulted to ensure compliance with legislation. Any employers in the industry are further encouraged to submit any proposals they may have to Stephen Khola, the ECA(SA)’s director of labour, for consolidation and consideration during the bargaining process,” says Mfikoe.
“We need the commitment of everyone going into these talks. We have had our own difficulties going into wage negotiations and some bridges have been burnt along the way,” admits Mfikoe.
“The electrical contracting industry experienced troublesome work stoppages in 2006, which resulted in major disruptions and arrests. However, I believe we have matured as negotiators and we are looking a fair deal that appreciates the need for employees to be paid better while respecting the imperatives of business to continue providing employment security and making prosperity possible.”
Mfikoe says the Council is “sensitive to the skills shortage in the industry” and is looking for ways to contribute to the funding of training in the electrical industry. “We recognise that the SETA system of training has impacted negatively on this industry and we want to intervene to ensure expert training and competent upskilling of the workforce for the ultimate good of the industry. Finding resources to fund this training is going to be a big part of these wage negotiations.” He adds: “We know that these negotiations are not going to be easy but we remain committed to their success because business and the country thrive when there is stability and predictability.
Enquiries: Stephen Khola, director of labour, ECA(SA) email@example.com