The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is preparing for mass action it describes as the "the mother of all battles" in the plastics and engineering sectors.
In correspondence seen by Business Day, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim urged regional secretaries to undertake a "fighting campaign involving every factory to defend collective bargaining and improve workers’ wages".
This, as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) warns of "dysfunctionalities" in SA’s collective bargaining system.
Acting senior commissioner for mediation and collective bargaining Shimane Kgantse told a mining forum last week that the practice was characterised by lengthy wage negotiations and protracted industrial action that is marred by intimidation and violence and challenges negotiated outcomes.
"For the past 15 to 16 years, we are still negotiating in the same manner, nothing has changed, it means that we are not learning anything," he said.
Numsa represents about 120,000 workers in the engineering sector, while it is negotiating with more than 10,000 employers in the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) covering over 350,000 employees.
The National Employers Association of SA has said it was aware that the union intended to strike in the metals sector where negotiations were still under way at the MEIBC, as Numsa’s approach was targeted at winning negotiations through mass protest and not negotiations.
Numsa is demanding a 15% wage increase in the metal and engineering sector, while engineering employers have thus far offered 5.3%.
Kgantse said the propensity to resort to industrial action has a tremendous effect on the economy and could limit potential for sustained growth.
National Employers Association of SA CEO Gerhard Papenfus said they had established a trend over the years that pointed to strikes as a mode of negotiation instead of as a last resort by labour unions.
In 2014, Numsa went on a month-long strike in the metals and engineering sector, costing the economy millions of rand and called it off after settling for a 10% wage offer.