South Africa’s ailing economy has given employers the upper hand in wage negotiations, according to the National Employees Association of SA (Neasa).
A case in point, said the body’s chief executive officer, Gerhard Papenfus, was the end of the three-week strike in the petrol sector. The Chemical‚ Energy‚ Paper‚ Printing‚ Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) settled with employers on Wednesday, on a 7% wage hike, ending the petroleum industry strike.
“Initially, employers came to the table with a three-year deal for a 7% increase,” Papenfus said. “The unions rejected this and demanded 9% for a one-year deal. After a three-week strike, they settled for the 7%. So, what was the point of a three-week strike in the first place?”
The strike had reportedly caused little disruption in supply and distribution because oil companies had contingency plans in place.
“Employers are becoming immune to strike action. We have been through a phase in the last year where we have been confronted with long strikes, with unions demanding 10% or similar. But those days are over,” Papenfus said. “Unions must come to the table with realistic demands.”
Still reeling from a commodity price crash, employers in the mining industry were even less likely to budge on union demands, labour expert Andrew Levy told The Citizen.
This included those of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has stuck to its traditional demand of a R12 500 basic salary in the platinum belt. But Neasa boss said this demand was more of a political statement than a realistic expectation.
“I’m not sure whether the mining employers have made an offer, but when the proposing party demands R12 500, which is a 100% wage increase, what can you put on the table?” He said the industry could not afford anything close to that number.
“There must be a lot of discussions behind the scenes. This is not realistic and it is bad timing in the industry.” But workers’ dissent in the industry is still rife.
Earlier this year, Chamber of Mines chief executive Roger Baxter said the mining sector had lost 47 000 jobs since 2012, while the mining ministry indicated that a further 32 000 jobs were under threat.
“When you have lost 47 000 jobs after wage hikes, it shows you that those increases were not affordable at the time,” Papenfus said.
“What we need is not only growth, but inclusive growth with more people participating in the labour market. “If you are at zero percent economic growth and accept an 8% wage hike, it will lead to job losses – and that is what employers are trying to say.”