The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said workers in the automotive components sector were disgruntled over the failure of employers to offer “equal work for equal pay” and recognised them as key stakeholders in the industry.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim told a panel discussion at the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers of South Africa industry show in Durban that workers did not want to be “merely consulted” in the drafting and implementing of new plans to guide the automotive industry.
“Workers in the component sector are very angry,” Jim said. “Workers in this industry must have a stake in the ownership of all automotive companies.”
The comments from the head of the country’s single biggest trade union come ahead of sector wage talks and amid heightened political expectations ahead of May 8 general elections.
The automotive industry produces more than 550,000 new vehicles a year and employs around 112,000 people, contributing an estimated 7.7% to gross domestic product.
Vehicle sales in the country have however flatlined over the past few years, as other speakers at the show noted.
Meanwhile, the system of state subsidies that underpin the sector and the related industrial policy meant to direct it is being replaced.
The Automotive Production and Development Programme ends next year and a new SA Automotive Masterplan will come into effect, aiming to increase the local content of South African-built cars to 60% by value from the current 37.4%.
The masterplan also seeks to double the number of people working in the industry, but this would require production to increase to about 1.4 million vehicles a year, or about 1% of global output.
Delegates at the show said some of the targets might be too ambitious, while others noted the likely impact of new technology on everything from car ownership to the need for a more skilled workforce.
Jim welcomed the masterplan as a “major step forward”, but questioned why past policy frameworks that included “in excess of R300 billion of incentives” had not “transformed the auto industry and created jobs”.
He said subsidies had mainly benefited the country’s big automakers and urged the government to intervene.
He told delegates that smaller, second, and third-tier suppliers in South Africa accounted for about 20% of the value chain in automotive supply, which compared unfavourably with a global figure of 50%.
“Numsa cannot be party to window dressing and government cannot continue spending billions of taxpayers’ money to support an industry that is not transforming, localising, or creating jobs,” said Jim, adding that a gap in wages and conditions of employment had developed between big car makers and suppliers.
In a later session at the conference the chief executive of Atlantis Foundries, Mervin Moodley, whose company makes engine blocks for export at its Cape Town plant, agreed wages needed to rise but said employees also must become accountable, saying issues like “sick leave” were “constantly abused”.
“We are competing against the best in the world. For us to compete we need excellence as well,” said Moodley.
– African News Agency