As the country breathed a sigh of relief after the five-month platinum strike came to an end, South Africa’s largest union – the National Union of Metal Workers in South Africa (NUMSA) – started gearing up for its own “indefinite” strike. The union confirmed on Sunday (29 June) that the strike by more than 200,000 workers will go ahead on Tuesday, 1 July.
Manufacturing is the second largest sector in the economy, after the services sector, and makes up more than 15% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product.) Output from this sector dropped 4.4% in the first quarter of this year.
This strike could cripple a number of key industries, including telecoms, electrical engineering, steel, automotive components and plastics. The bad news does not end there however, as the union has not ruled out strike action at Eskom, potentially turning the lights out on the rest of the economy.
The union’s general secretary Irvin Jim says, “As we have still made no progress with the negotiations, we are reminding everyone that our demands include a 12% wage increase."
This is down from the original 15% that NUMSA started out asking for in March, but the union would like it’s 12% in a one-year deal. This is nearly double the 6.6% inflation rate. Employers are, however, offering a three-year deal with between 7% and 8% in the first year.
Pickets are planned in various major cities on Wednesday, which are expected to be supported by several civil society groups as well as Eskom employees.
The National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA) has expressed disappointment over the strike, and said that NUMSA has failed to engage on issues that would have grown the industry, including relaxing the minimum wages for sector entrants.
BD Live quoted Gerard Papenfus, NEASA CEO as saying that employers could not afford a double-digit increase, and that it was unrealistic in a sector that had shed 250,000 jobs in the past five-years.
Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine told BD Live that a protracted strike by NUMSA would probably push South Africa into a recession. A recession is two consecutive quarters of contraction in economic activity, and in the first quarter of this year we saw a retraction of 0.6% in the South African economy.
Solidarity who represents 30,000 artisans and skilled employees has said it will not join the strike. Marius Croucamp, Solidarity’s metal industry head accused NUMSA of “jumping the gun,” and says that “there is still room for negotiation.”
By Jenni McCann