Picture:  REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

The wage agreement in the steel and engineering industry may have prevented a strike, but workers will have to wait a long time before benefiting from it.

The wage deal that has hiked workers’ wages by up to 7% was signed only by five trade unions and a single employer body, while others planned to fight against being included in it.

This followed the failure by employer organisations to reach consensus about wage offers during the initial stages of negotiations, as they opted to go their separate ways.

While the Labour Relations Act made provision for the minister of labour to extend the agreement to nonsignatories, those opposed to the agreement — such as the National Employers’ Association of SA (Neasa) — said they would block its ratification at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), which signed the agreement last week, only accounts for 10% of employers at the council and also holds a minority of seats.

"Any attempt by Seifsa and the trade unions to extend this agreement by unlawful means, as they have done in the past, will be met with the appropriate urgent legal action," said Neasa CEO Gerhard Papenfus.

According to Seifsa, the agreement would be backdated to July 1.

Another employer body opposed to the deal, the South African Engineers and Founders said Seifsa had underestimated the number of employers who would reject the deal.

"Our course of action now is to oppose the extension of the agreement to nonparties unless ... matters of critical importance to our members [are] included therein," it said.

Trade union Uasa, which has signed the agreement, said it hoped the deal would be applicable to all parties, including nonparties, by the end of 2017. It described as "lengthy" the processes that should be followed to ensure it was binding.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za

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