Numsa’s wage hike quandary

National Union of Metalworkers deputy general secretary Karl Cloete prepares to give a presentation to shopstewards at the union's national bargaining council meeting held at the St Georges Hotel in Irene, Pretoria on 17 April 2013 Photo: Dianne Hawker

NUMSA has a problem. has learnt that its members have made outrageous demands on the Union’s leadership, with workers in some sectors wanting pay increases of in excess of 200%.

Union bosses will be hard pressed to juggle the astonishing requests by workers with the harsh realities of today’s economy.

The regional demands are merely proposals from factory level, and are in the process of being discussed by the union.

However, they show that workers have high expectations – hoping to jump from relatively low hourly and monthly rates to double or even triple their current salaries.

This week 450 shop stewards from the union met in Irene, Pretoria ahead of wage negotiations with the motor, engineering, auto, tyre and iron and steel industries. 

Looking at what workers want in some sectors, reaching middle ground may be quite difficult.

For example in the motor sector – which includes component and parts manufacturers, parts retail staff and petrol station staff – salaries currently range from R2,000 to R8,000 a month. has reliably learnt that in the Hlanganani region in Limpopo, workers want a minimum wage of R16,000 – which amounts to an average increase of 300%.

Meanwhile, motor industry workers in Sedibeng want the minimum salary to be R7,500. This would mean an average increase of more than 90%.

In the auto sector, understands that the regional demands range from 23% to 51% across the different pay grades.

The union is well aware of the problem it faces.

When the four-day meeting began on Tuesday, Numsa president Cedric Gina told the shop stewards: “Collective bargaining post-Marikana and De Doorns will never be the same.”

And this is where the big juggle arises. In the motor industry in particular, Numsa is facing a major problem of membership. Although it is Cosatu’s second biggest affiliate with around 311,000 members, it has struggled to garner support on the shop floor.

According to Numsa figures, as at 26 March 2013, only 34% of the 295,000 motor sector workforce were not union members. Of the 34% who belonged to unions, only 22% are Numsa members.

Deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said this is the reason the union is implementing a membership drive between May and July.

“Obviously we are concerned about the fact that workers are not organised into unions. And in the motor sector this is due to a number of factors. For example you find many many small establishments like garages with three to four people and so it’s quite difficult to reach out…You also have small establishments that are family owned in which industrial relations takes on another character in those small establishments,” he said.

“This is why we’ve resolved that collective bargaining must be combined with a recruitment drive because it’s unsustainable to be putting demands to employers when you know that you won’t be able to back up your demands with muscle and collective power,” Cloete said.

Wage negotiations in the motor, auto and tyre industries are taking place for the first time in three years, and the challenge for the union will be twofold.

In addition to monetary gain, they will have to come up with a strategy to get employers to agree to an annual deal – something the union failed to do in 2010.

The union is also focusing on occupational health and safety, saying it is concerned with injuries and deaths on duty.

“What Numsa has done is we’ve taken a resolution to employ full time in all of the nine provinces regional occupational health and safety coordinators so that we can ensure that we are able to do the groundwork. And the groundwork is ensuring that workplaces have occupational health and safety committees. That those occupational health and safety committees be separated from being under management of the company,” Cloete says.

Economist Chris Hart says he anticipates strikes in some of the metal sectors, but that worker expectations have to be realistic.

“The one thing is that workers need to understand the difference between price and value. You have got to get value for the labour price. There needs to be high levels of productivity,” he said.

Hart added that in countries like Japan, where workers earned relatively good wages, there were very high levels of productivity to offset the cost.

“After Marikana, yes there is an expectation. There is a case on unions that feel they are bullet proof,” he said.

Hart added that a more cooperative relationship between companies and unions would produce better results. “You cannot create jobs without employers,” he said.

Numsa is expected to announce its bargaining demands in the coming week, and the proposed increases are unlikely to be as high as those demanded by workers at regional level.


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