Court deals blow to some employees in metals sector – but they vow to keep on fighting

  • The National Employers Association and South African Engineering and Founders’ Association are weighing the options to block the extension of a steel and engineering sector wage deal to their members.
  • The two associations lost a Labour Court bid to block the Steel and Engineering Industry Federation of South Africa from extending the bargaining council deal.
  • Seifsa called the Labour Court’s ruling a victory for collective bargaining as a way of reducing income disparities in the sector.
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Last week, the Labour Court dismissed an urgent application brought by National Employers Association of South Africa (Neasa) and the South African Engineering and Founders’ Association (Saefa) to halt the extension of the Metals and Engineering Bargaining Council (MEIBC) wage deal to their members. But Neasa and Saefa have vowed to keep fighting despite the ruling.

The wage deal in question is a 6% increase to the minimum rate in the metals and engineering sector. Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi extended the deal to non-parties in June.

They tried to challenge a bid by trade unions and the MEIBC, saying they can’t afford it.

They argue that unions and employer associations representing larger businesses accepted the deal at the expense of the smaller and rural businesses in the sector, and that it was pushed through against standard procedures.

READ | Neasa, Saefa to challenge ‘unconstitutional’ metal and engineering wage deal extension

Meanwhile, the Steel and Engineering Industry Federation of South Africa (Siefsa), the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), the South African Equity Workers Union, and union, Uasa, stand behind the deal and will now seek its extension.

In his judgment last week, Labour Court Acting Judge Sean Snyman said the employees in the matter would have been the ones prejudiced if the relief sought by applicants was granted.

“I am unconvinced that the applicants are entitled to the relief sought in their application. The applicants have failed to demonstrate that they have any right to the relief sought, let alone a clear right.

“I am satisfied that the applicants have alternative remedies available to them in the ordinary course and that they simply would not suffer any irreparable prejudice should they not be granted the relief sought,” said Snyman.

National manager of the Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO), Jaundre Kruger, slammed Neasa’s and Saefa’s court bid as an attempt to “scupper equity in the metal sector”. Kruger said the agreement’s extension allowed small, medium, and micro-enterprises to “gradually phase in their wages in a multi-phased manner”. 

READ | Employer group warns of wage and jobs wipeout if Numsa strike drags on

Neasa CEO Gerhardus Papenfus told Fin24 that the ruling did not account for the fact that the people who supported this wage deal will not have to pay it themselves. He said many were “gloating” about the ruling as a victory, but that the deal will hurt the industry.

“This was an urgent application and winning an urgent application is quite a hurdle. I personally think the judgment was emotional. I am, respectfully, of the view that this judgment was incorrect. The judge forgets that we won the cases up to this point because we were right,” said Papenfus.

Papenfus said the Labour Court case was “just the first salvo in a long battle” to protect businesses’ rights to pay a wage that they could afford. He said Neasa was fighting to protect the steel from “de-industrialisation at a large scale”.

“We are fighting for the right of a business to determine its own wage on merits. We are fighting against the survival of this industry, against joblessness. We are fighting for a company in a rural area to determine its own way,” Papenfus said.

Papenfus said the association was not yet in a position to announce details on Neasa and Saefa’s plans, but that their next move would be announced in due course.

Neasa and Saefa said the Plastic Converters Association of South Africa (PCASA) asked to vote on the matter at a Meibc meeting, despite not being an employer in the sector.

Addressing a briefing on Monday afternoon, Seifsa CEO Lucio Trentini welcomed the Labour Court ruling as a victory for collective bargaining, saying it was “a cornerstone of the system” and a way of reducing “disproportionate” income differences in the sector.

“In the eyes of the court, this application should never have been brought in the first place. This matter, the court concluded, was nothing more than an ill-fated attempt at an artificial construct to get out of the main agreement,” said Trentini.

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