With approximately 155,000 organized members in the sector, South Africa’s National Metalworkers’ Union (NUMSA) has shut down the engineering industry altogether after wage negotiations with employers have ceased and arbitration has failed.
“We are left with no choice but to strike and to withhold our labour indefinitely until the bosses give into our just demands,” NUMSA said in a statement.
The union organized marches and rallies nationwide on Tuesday, with thousands of people attending the march in Central Johannesburg. There, NUMSA’s distinctive red-colored protesters put up a sign saying “An injury to one is an injury to all”.
NUMSA envisioned an overall salary increase of 8% in the first year of the payroll contract, and an increase equal to inflation over the next two years plus 2%. Currently, the annual inflation rate is about 5%.
Industry body Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa had offered 4.4% in 2021, 0.5% inflation in 2022, and 1% inflation in the third year.
South Africa’s economy, including the export-centric automotive sector, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and employers are hesitant to succumb to union demands for wage increases that exceed inflation.
Last year’s car sales fell by about 30% in both the domestic and export markets, hitting major brands such as Ford, BMW and Nissan with local factories.
Mark Roberts, one of the chief coordinators of the Retail Automobile Manufacturers Association, said inventory could be affected if the NUMSA strike lasted for more than a week.
Separately, the country’s largest trade union federation called on its members to leave work onwards Thursday.
COSATU is in line with the ruling party of the African National Congress, but is sometimes critical of its policy and accuses the government of financial mismanagement during the coronavirus crisis.