20 May 2021
Article originally posted in Engineering News: Wage negotiations in Metals and Engineering sector should be about protecting jobs while ensuring decent living wage – CEA (engineeringnews.co.za)

Last year’s historic wage standstill agreement in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will see this year’s wage talks pose a tough challenge for employers engaged in the steel construction industry, operating in the structural, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, piping and project management fields, the Constructional Engineering Association (CEA) of South Africa has said.

Wage negotiations for the Metals and Engineering sector, of which employers affiliated to the CEA are a part, are set to begin in May and come at a time when companies are trying to operate in a tough economic environment that has been aggravated by the COVID-19 induced lockdowns. Last year’s unprecedented stand-still agreement saw the retention of Main Agreement terms and conditions of employment agreed to in 2017, and the freezing of wage rates until 30 June 2021.

This year, said CEA Executive Director Anthony Boy, the challenge will be to ensure that labour and employers conclude a mutually beneficial agreement that would both save jobs and ensure a decent wage for workers even as the cost of living spirals due to higher electricity tariffs, transport and food costs.

Mr Boy said the current environment underpins the importance of consolidated employer support to go to the negotiation table and engage with labour in order to reach a reasonable settlement that works both for employers and workers.

“The CEA believes that going it alone as an employer is not the ideal strategy during wage talks. We are all in the same predicament – we need to keep the wheels turning in our businesses cost-efficiently without cutting jobs – and therefore we need to approach the negotiations as a collective,” Mr Boy said.

Mr Boy said the CEA is a well-established employer association affiliated to the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) and as such, is committed to advocating in the interests of employers on not only business platforms such as Business Unity South Africa, Nedlac and the Black Business Council, but also the Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council, where it is recognised as an employer representative. The Association is also recognised by labour unions.

He said the CEA’s recognition on these and other industry platforms gives its member employers the assurance that it has a successful track record in effectively representing their interests, particularly during wage negotiations, ensuring that they walk away with a settlement agreement that provides the certainty, stability and industrial peace that is needed to survive in a post COVID-19 business reality.

“With unemployment at record highs, it is crucial that all stakeholders agree on a solution that balances the retention of jobs while ensuring a decent living wage for workers and ensuring the financial sustainability of all employers. Our mandate is to ensure that outcome,” Mr Boy said.

Mr Boy is confident that all parties will approach the wage negotiations with the same intent that resulted in last year’s standstill agreement “With the M&E industry still under significant strain, employers and labour both understand the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the sector and at the end of the day, any settlement agreement will prioritise that,” he concluded.