Call for calm in the face of increasing industrial action

Friday, October 8, 2021

Employment and Labour Minister, Thulas Nxesi, has urged all parties to resolve their industrial issues urgently through social dialogue especially in this sensitive period of massive unemployment and retrenchments.

This comes after workers affiliated with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) embarked on a national indefinite strike following failed salary negotiations with major employer organisation in the engineering sector, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa).

Numsa and Seifsa remain in a deadlock over salaries following the end of their wage agreement in June.

Additionally, one of the country’s biggest federations, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), called for workers to come out in their millions this week to protest South Africa's weak economic performance.

The Minister appealed to all social partners entering wage negotiations to work through their issues on the table. He said hostility would not solve differences, instead it risks escalating the severe economic and social damages that have been brought about by COVID-19.

"Our Constitution guarantees the right of association and the protection of worker rights and industrial action. We respect the fact that many people died for us to be able to enjoy these rights. But with the rights come the responsibilities and we would like to urge unions and other worker representatives to exercise this responsibility,” Nxesi said.

Nxesi said it is common cause that the country is now going through one of the most difficult periods occasioned by the pandemic on one hand and the inclement economic conditions that prevailed even before COVID-19 on the other.

“It is against this background that we appeal to all the players, workers and employers, unions federations and employer bodies to handle the sensitive talks with the necessary caution.

"Cool heads should prevail and the good of the country and our economy should always at the top of mind. After protracted industrial action, we still have to come and sit around the table to resolve our differences but it is not wise or advisable to play a zero-sum game. We are all invested in this country,” the minister said.

Nxesi added that given the number of unemployed people in the country, it would be tragic if more people become unemployed when social dialogue would be more fruitful.

According to the latest unemployment figures from Statistics South Africa, the country has lost even more jobs in the second quarter, with some 54 000 people losing their jobs in the second quarter of 2021 to 14.9 million. 

The number of unemployed persons increased by 584 000 to 7.8 million compared to the first quarter of 2021.

The report also showed that discouraged work-seekers increased by 186 000 (5,9%) which resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing by 1.8 percentage points from 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 to 34,4% in the second quarter of 2021, the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008. –