The National Union of Metalworkers of SA said earlier it would embark on an indefinite strike for a 12 percent wage increase from Tuesday.
National Employer’s Association of SA (Neasa) chief executive Gerhard Papenfus said the strike would affect South Africa’s image as a reliant investment destination.
Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa) chief executive Kaizer Nyatsumba said the strike threatened South African industries’ ability to compete against foreign competitors.
“It is deeply regrettable that, at a time when our economy is under a considerable strain, our partners in labour would fail to appreciate the potential consequences of their actions.”
Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said earlier that around 220,000 of its members would strike in the engineering and metals industries, affecting small, medium and large companies.
The union’s demands include a 12 percent wage increase in a one-year bargaining agreement. Numsa initially demanded 15 percent, but subsequently lowered its demand.
Employers have tabled a three-year wage settlement offer of between seven and eight percent for different levels of workers in the first year, and CPI-linked increases for 2015 and 2016.
Papenfus said: “The decision by Numsa clearly shows that they are not serious about growing the economy, job creation, creating an environment that will at least attempt to accommodate millions of unemployed.
“And that they clearly do not understand the crucial role that small and medium enterprises play in growing the economy.”
He dismissed Cloete’s assertion that the decision to strike was not taken lightly.
“Numsa’s announcement that the decision to go on strike was not an easy one is not credible. More than a month ago Numsa announced that they would go on strike,” he said.
Nyatsumba said employers had done everything reasonably possible in negotiations to avoid a strike.
“We have twice made good wage offers to the unions, with our last offer being a very good one. Regrettably, we are left with no option but to conclude reluctantly that the unions were always intent on embarking on a strike, at the end of the negotiations process, as a show of force.”
Earlier, Cloete said that during the three months of negotiations leading to the decision to strike, employers had revealed themselves as “stubborn and intransigent”.
Nyatsumba said: “If there has been any intransigence shown in the past three months, that intransigence was on the side of labour, which dug rigidly in its heels throughout the process and made very little concessions, if at all.”
He appealed to the union to work with employers to preserve jobs, grow the industries and improve the country’s economy.
Cloete warned that Numsa members were willing to strike indefinitely.
“We say we will not be starved into submission. Indefinite is indefinite.”
He rejected employers’ assertions that the desired increases were unaffordable because South Africa’s economy was weak.
“Bosses and the state, why are you not concerned about levels of poverty? If bosses are concerned about the futures of their companies in the sector, it could be settled within a week, within a day,” Cloete said.
The union would not settle for less than a double-digit increase.
Solidarity, one of the smaller unions in the industries, said it had written a letter to the other unions and the employer organisations asking for an extension of the dispute round of the negotiations.
General secretary Gideon du Plessis said in a statement that his union, representing 22,000 workers in the industries, wanted to avoid a strike and hoped that an extension of 21 days could achieve this.
“With this request, Solidarity wants to prevent its members from being subjected to a lockout by the employer if other trade unions should go on strike.”
One of the issues the unions unanimously opposed in the present offer was a proposal that the minimum salary of new entry-level employees would be halved.