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Wages take back seat over “Peace Clause” fight

THE National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) says its striking members are likely to reject the current offer by employers, unless it is adapted to preserve the rights of workers to take action over shop-floor issues after a collective deal is struck.

The union has had 220,000 members on strike since July 1, and has been given until Friday to respond to a three-year double-digit wage deal.

Numsa warned on Thursday that an employers’ proposal to amend a clause in the agreement — meant to ensure labour stability — was “reckless” and could backfire.

The contentious issue is the “peace clause”, which is meant to provide certainty to employers after an agreement has been negotiated in collective bargaining; that employers will not face strikes and then have to contend with additional and unforeseen costs.

Companies are concerned that two Labour Court judgments this year open the “back door” for additional demands by unions.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) said this week its 2,200 members had “reluctantly” agreed to a three-year deal ranging from 7%-10%.

The amendment to the wording of the peace clause was proposed, employers have said, to create clarity on the scope of collective agreements.

Seifsa CEO Kaizer Nyatsumba said this week the changes to the “peace clause” were necessary to reaffirm the original intention of the bargaining process, that it cover all matters that could add to the material cost of employment.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said this would give businesses “unfettered” power to drive workplace changes without unions being able to oppose them with actions such as strikes. It should be seen as a “frontal attack” on the power of organised labour.

Employers fear that a two-tier bargaining system would emerge without the amendment.

But Numsa said its record of more than two decades of deals was proof it did not “double dip”, as the practice is known.

“If employers insist on (the amendment) we would not have negotiations every three years. We would have negotiations every six months,” he said.

The Numsa national leadership was to convene last night to get feedback on its two-day regional mandating process, which will determine how to proceed with the negotiations. It is understood Seifsa and Numsa continued talks on the “peace clause” on Thursday. This means Numsa has not made any final decision, but Mr Jim said on Thursday it was considering whether it could agree to the amendment if employers made concessions on a similar level. These could include moratoriums on retrenchments and restructuring, he said.

The National Employers Association of South Africa, the second-largest employer body by workforce, supports Seifsa’s proposal, but has indicated it would not sign off on an agreement, CEO Gerhard Papenfus said on Thursday.

Seifsa has claimed that the strike was costing the economy about R300m a day. Economists and the Reserve Bank have warned of the damage to the economy if the strike is protracted.

The association still maintains that its members cannot afford an increase above 8%, and has not dropped a demand that would see minimum wages at new companies halved in the interest of business and job creation.

United Association of South Africa director for metals Johan van Niekerk said on Thursday the union would present a suggestion to the council that might address the issue.

Source – BD Live by Karl Gernetzky