Facing industry challenges 

Usually, the year ends with relative industrial peace as workers are reluctant to jeopardize their earnings prior to their annual holidays. However, from January onwards, pressures at shop-floor level start to build up as the usual dissatisfaction with the take home pay starts to manifest.  In spite of the agreements which stipulate laid down increases to be effective from 1 July, there is always an attempt to improve one’s situation prior to that date and so further broaden the gap between scheduled and actual wage.  As a result, unofficial, subtle industrial action resumes in our plants in an attempt to improve the take home pay, quite understandable, but unacceptable to all employers.

Without formally declaring disputes, workers start to withhold their labour, work to rule, go slow, ban overtime and intimidate others to follow suit. There is never an acknowledgement that this is happening or even that the objectives exist, but production seems to slow down and management is hard pressed to identify the reasons and to implement the corrective actions needed to stop it.    
The agreements reached through collective bargaining processes are the ones which we need to adhere to and observe. Our workers need to do the same. We cannot and must not succumb to interim adjustments in an attempt to alleviate pressures brought on by this type of conduct. Our cost structures (wages in particular) are already way too high!
Whilst we, as employers, have the utmost sympathy for the plight of the poor and particularly for those who work for us, knowing full well that the employed are increasingly having to look after the unemployed as more people lose their jobs, we too are facing untold pressures and our ability to assist is very limited. Our survival in a sluggish domestic economy facing low cost imports and weak export markets is also at stake.
As we have seen in various economic sectors of our country lately, more employers are facing unprotected strikes as they are easy targets. The problem does not lie with employers paying too little, the problem lies with the cost of living being too high – particularly for the lower paid sectors of our population. In addition, the burden of having to support an extended family arising from unemployment and rapidly rising prices for the basics and we have a formula for mass uprisings and actions aimed, misdirected in my opinion,  at employers whereas the real culprit / target should be the state, its policies or lack thereof.
Jobs are not created through increasing wages! Jobs are created through ideas and initiatives based on competition and market opportunities, through taking risks and being positive about the future.  These elements, however, are under threat and employers are at the front line of the protests and industrial action which seems to be a growing trend in our country. Employers need state support and protection or the situation could get far worse.
The conditions of employment and wages in the metals industry are of the best and highest in our country.  Our competition sits in the East, where a better trained, more productive, less strike conscious and more affordable work force is active. How do we compete? A weakened currency will only bring short-term relief, inflation will see to that, our sole most important and most effective counter strategy has to be productivity related. We must improve the productivity levels of our work force and we must be prepared to sacrifice short-term gains for a long-term prosperity by investing in training today to ensure we reap the rewards later.  
Whilst we train, there should be restraint on all other costs which impact on our businesses:

  • Halving the scheduled wage rates to encourage employment and new entries into our industry should be introduced.
  • Wage agreements should be frozen and exemptions granted automatically to small employers.  These should be valid for at least ten years – not just the one, two or three year duration of our agreements.  
  • The money which employers are expected to spend on wage increases should rather be directed towards training and upgrading our work forces. Only once we have a trained and productive workforce will we be able to pay higher wages. Train now – pay later!  

Further to the many challenges facing our industrial sectors at present, the agreements which we have reached with the unions are being challenged, not only at shop-floor level but also by employer organisations that see an opportunity for breaking down the central bargaining system and creating a free for all, which can only lead to more chaos.
Your participation and input as to how we solve these challenges in our industry is vital to SEIFSA and all who are involved in direct interaction with organised labour, through the bargaining council and the new Industrial Policy Forum, which will initiate discussions this month.
If you have ideas on how to solve challenges in our industry and want to ensure they reach the forums that can make a difference, please phone the following experts at Seifsa:
Economics - Henk Langenhoven - Chief Economist
Industrial Relations - Lucio Trentini – Operations Director
Skills Development - Nazrene Mannie – Skills Executive
After a restful and hopefully happy festive season, let’s get ready to face the challenges of 2013 head on.