by Gerhard Papenfus, the CE of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA)
It is now general knowledge that the Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council (MEIBC) is in dire financial difficulty, to such an extent that it may have to close its doors.
Instead of confronting the real issues which gave rise to the current impasse, NUMSA is reverting to its typical modus operandi of threatening employers with industrial action, even “rolling mass action”, unless employers immediately agree to a flawed budget for the MEIBC, which is to be enforced on non-parties; all in an attempt to save the MEIBC. The current Administrative Levy Agreement (which is the source of funding for the MEIBC), will only be binding on approximately 15 percent of employers in the Metal Industry after 30 June 2016.
The Metal Industry employer caucus, on 25 May 2016, voted unanimously against the proposed budget presented by the MEIBC and the extension thereof to non-parties. The employer caucus did this for the following reasons:-
- the current Administrative Levy Agreement, in many respects, does not comply with the peremptory requirements of the Labour Relations Act;
- financial statements of the MEIBC have not been approved since 2012, and since there are many areas of concern and unanswered questions, approving the budget and then expecting non-signatories to pay for that, will amount to serious fiduciary neglect;
- even if approved, the budget presented by the MEIBC would not cover the MEIBC’s operating expenses and, at most, would only succeed in throwing more money into a bottomless pit that would therefore only delay the inevitable;
- NUMSA’s refusal to negotiate NEASA’s demands (conditions) to serve as the foundation for future administrative funding, makes any decision with regard to this matter unlawful at this stage; and
- in any event, the MEIBC is currently functioning without a constitutionally appointed management committee, which will render any decision to enforce an agreement on non-parties unlawful and therefore null and void.
It is in light of the above that it is impossible for employers to agree to, amongst others, NUMSA’s demands in respect of the MEIBC budget and forcing non-parties to contribute to it. It is therefore simply incomprehensible that NUMSA refuses to engage with employers on issues that is aimed at saving the Metal Industry, not only the MEIBC, but instead revert to industrial action, which is contra productive and delays any prospect of a mutually beneficial solution.
The MEIBC, in its current format and structures, appears to be an extension of NUMSA, serves its interests and promotes its ideology – which is socialist in nature and therefore hostile to business. What stands out, however, is that the demise of the MEIBC will be a very hard blow to NUMSA’s interests, including its financial viability. Therefore, NUMSA’s crusade to preserve the MEIBC, is not so much about the interest of workers, but has everything to do with its self-preservation.
Over years the MEIBC, almost without exception, acting unlawfully and outside of a legally compliant framework, has bullied business and presided over the closure of thousands of SMMEs, costing South Africa hundreds of thousands of jobs. All of this took place in a dispensation in which the voice of SMMEs, through hostile labour legislation, is marginalised. This dispensation up until now suited NUMSA very well; they chose their negotiating partners and they always got the outcome they desired. This playing field and the nature of the game has changed however.
So where to from here? Instead of industrial action, in which workers will be reluctant to participate because they have nothing to gain by it (but forced to through violence and intimidation), NUMSA will be well advised to negotiate the future of the Metal Industry with the employers that matter, not those they choose to negotiate with.