Numsa (National Union of Metalworkers of SA) said on Tuesday, 01 July 2014, it was going back to its previous demand for a 15% wage increase, because employers had failed to respond “in kind” to its lower 12%, reported Reuters.
"Even after we had moved to 12%, employers didn't make any or movement or better offer," said spokesperson Castro Ngobese. "Since the negotiations have collapsed we must revert back to our initial demand."
Thousands of striking metal sector workers arrived at their industry's bargaining council in central Johannesburg. A memorandum was handed over by Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and and Numsa president Andrew Chirwa to officials from the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council.
Vavi said the strike is a political fight for a living wage. "We are told that we are being irresponsible for embarking on a strike. We are told this is not about workers, but about Numsa's decisions taken at its last congress," Vavi told workers.
Chirwa said, "A demand for a living wage is political, because it is politics that allowed such conditions 20 years into a democracy."
He said workers were not to blame for the economy's poor health. The strike by about 220,000 Numsa workers for a double digit wage increase follows a five-month strike by platinum miners, which ended last week. Concerns have been expressed that another strike could push the country into recession.
Seifsa CEO Kaizer Nyatsumba said earlier this month the industry could ill afford a strike.
"We are concerned that our economy has not performed well in recent years, with the metals and engineering industry being among the sectors most threatened by cheap imports."
"Those who should be blamed are the ones who manage the economy, and manage it towards only one direction, which is down. We will not pay for the mistake of the capitalist system," Vavi said.
Workers had been urging those in power to implement the Freedom Charter, he said.
"The Freedom Charter says the wealth of the country shall be shared by all... we are here to demand our share from the country's economy."
Vavi said the country had no good story to tell, as the African National Congress had claimed.
President Jacob Zuma failed to tell South Africans in his State of the Nation address how many jobs were lost in the past five months, he said.
"The president said more than 9,000 jobs were created... do you see those jobs? The president failed to tell the country how many jobs were lost. We are sitting with a 36% unemployment rate."
He said public money went to upgrading Zuma's private homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and that over R300m was spent in refurbishing ministers' accommodation.
Cosatu in a statement on Tuesday also called on union affiliates to support the strike.
Both the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) expressed their solidarity with Numsa.
Nehawu said Numsa must stand fast in its demand for better wages.
"We call on the employers in the metal and engineering sectors to accede to the reasonable demands of the workers," spokesperson Sizwe Paml.
NUM said that it is important for the working class to continue fighting for better salaries and better working conditions.
"The NUM support Numsa in their fight to close the apartheid wage gap, fighting for equity in the workplace, and demanding a living wage."
On a similar note, South Africa construction firm Murray & Roberts said a strike by more than 220,000 engineering and steel workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of SA has halted work on parts of two crucial Eskom power stations.
Murray & Roberts, which is helping build steam generators for Eskom's Medupi and Kusile power plants, said no work was taking place at parts of Kusile and only minimal work was being done at Medupi.
"Approximately 1 400 scheduled employees are not at work at Kusile. We have decided to not send in any other employees to the site until we have further clarity," said Ed Jardim, a spokesperson for Murray & Roberts.