Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

The dreaded potential strike in the metals and engineering sector seems to have been averted, with trade unions and employers said to be edging closer to a deal.

The majority of the employers in the sector and all trade unions will meet on Thursday to finalise details of a proposed settlement agreement that could see negotiations come to an end by next week.

Analysts said that industrial action would have crippled the South African economy even more because of the significance of the engineering sector in many other industries, such as construction and mining.

Johan van Niekerk, of trade union United Association of SA, said they were positive about the direction of the talks.

"We are of the opinion that if the offer that was given to us provisionally is confirmed tomorrow [Thursday], then the wage negotiations might be over," he said.

"It’s also true that it is not our intention to go on a strike," Van Niekerk said.

"We understand that the economy is not doing well and it will be to the disadvantage of our members," he said.

However, the industry would have to overcome another hurdle to ensure all workers received whatever wage increase was agreed on.

Van Niekerk said they would have to apply for an extension of the agreement to nonparties such as the National Employers Association of SA (Neasa), which has refrained from taking part in the wage talks, following the deadlock at the industry bargaining council.

Neasa CEO Gerhard Papenfus said the agreement would be a "futile exercise", indicating they would fight attempts for it to be extended to its members.

"It’s a waste of time, there might be a deal, but it won’t amount to anything because it will not be enforceable."

Solidarity’s Marius Croucamp described as "problematic" the fact that some of the employer bodies were not prepared to engage with labour.

He was concerned that the legal battles that followed the past two agreements in the industry would once again delay implementation of the agreement across all firms.

"In the end, there will be an industry agreement that will be extended to parties and we want all of them on board willingly and not forced on them.

"We have reached out to them and they indicated they are not ready to engage with us at this point in time.

"We wait to see what happens," Croucamp said.

The biggest union in the sector, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, said that it would hold general meetings with its members to receive a mandate on the way forward following its central committee meeting last week.

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