Ordinarily, tough times require us, as compatriots, to work much closely together to solve whatever challenges confront us, in the interest of our beautiful country. This makes close co-operation and collaboration between and among all key stakeholders – in particular the Government, business and labour – all the more imperative.

Regrettably, for a whole host of reasons, it appears that some South Africans are drawing apart at the very time when they need to be cohering. Last year ended on a terrible note, with all sorts of racial insults flying around, and 2016 started in very much the same way. On 2 February 2016 – which marked the 26th anniversary of the day on which the last president of apartheid South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, took the country and the world by surprise when he announced, during his State-of-the-Nation address to Parliament, the unbanning of thitherto proscribed political organisations and the unbanning of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and other political prisoners – a group of South Africans indicated its intention of laying charges of apartheid-era human rights violations against Mr De Klerk.

As respected political analyst Professor Steven Friedman noted during our strategic planning session in December last year, racial frictions are growing more pronounced at a time when South Africans need to be pulling together in the same direction. That is most unfortunate. At a time like this one wishes that one had a magic wand that one would wave around and ensure that South Africans overcome their racial hang-ups and work together as a coherent nation.

Similarly, one wishes that the same magic wand would ensure a higher degree of maturity among the three stakeholder groups vital for our economy’s performance: the Government, business and labour. For as long as these important stakeholder groups do not accept one another’s bona fides and work together as a team, our beloved country, South Africa, will not realize its true potential.

This non-alignment between business and labour is likely to play itself out yet again when our sector negotiates with labour on wages and conditions of employment next year. When that time comes, we are likely to see business and labour speaking past each other, as though they live on different planets, at a time when the metals and engineering sector is bleeding.

Those negotiations are still a year away from now. At the end of each round of negotiations, inevitably some companies in Associations affiliated to SEIFSA cry foul, arguing that a deal was struck without their mandate or knowledge. Objectively, of course, such claims are not valid because SEIFSA acts strictly in accordance with the mandate given to it, and does not take decisions at all on matters that are the subject of negotiations.

Following the complaints that we received at the end of the 2014 negotiations and what we were told by various companies when we subsequently met them to explain how the process had gone, one thing became blatantly clear: there is considerable room for improvement when it comes to communication between some Associations, which are the ones which give SEIFSA a mandate, and the companies that belong to those Associations.

We at SEIFSA are keen to ensure that the apparent chasm that exists in the aforementioned case is bridged so that the mandate coming from the respective employer Associations will be truly representative of the companies that they represent. Therefore, we ask that all member companies in Associations affiliated to SEIFSA participate actively within their Associations, especially in discussions leading to the formulation of negotiating mandates. It is vitally important that that active involvement starts now and continues right into and throughout the negotiations in 2017.

Please, do participate, dear member company. The Associations represent you and your interests, and SEIFSA represents their collective interests. They cannot represent your interests effectively unless they know what they are because you will have articulated them in their meetings.

However, member companies must also be aware of the fact that their views, expressed through their Association, do not on their own constitute SEIFSA’s mandate. Just as companies have to make their voices heard within Associations and get matters debated until a consensus emerges which represents the views of that Association, the same happens in the case of Associations at SEIFSA Council Meetings. There, too, our member Associations debate matters vigorously among themselves and emerge with a consensus which represents the views of the SEIFSA Council. It is the consensus views of the SEIFSA Council – and not those of one Association or two – that constitute SEIFSA’s mandate.

Personally, I am very keen to ensure that we do not have companies complaining, after the conclusion of the 2017 negotiations on wages and conditions of employment, that they were kept in the dark or did not participate in shaping the Federation’s mandate through their respective Associations. We at SEIFSA have absolutely no interest in this or that kind of settlement. Instead, our role is strictly to execute the mandate of our member Associations, and not to lead them in one direction or another. When it comes to negotiations, we no more than agents carrying out the wishes of their members.
It is important that all companies keep that in mind as they begin their preparations for the 2017 MEIBC negotiations. It can hardly be fair for SEIFSA to be blamed, as has often been the case, for negotiation outcomes that were not of the Federation’s doing.

My challenge to all companies that are members of Associations affiliated to SEIFSA is simple: get involved in shaping your Association’s – and, therefore, indirectly SEIFSA’s – mandate for the 2017 wage negotiations. You will have nobody but yourself to blame if you should choose not to be involved.

The SEIFSA Awards for Excellence for 2015 are upon us. This is yet another opportunity for us to recognise excellence in our sector.
If you care enough about manufacturing in Southern Africa in general and the metals and engineering sector in particular and believe that you are one of the companies that excel in one or other part of business, then you also don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to enter for the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence so that you can be recognised publicly for your excellence and be rewarded for it.
There are seven categories in which you can seek to be recognised by a panel of independent experts. These are:

  • Most Innovative Company of the Year, to be awarded to a company that has shown the best level of innovation in Research and Development or Production, in the process either gaining market advantage or reducing production costs;
  • Health & Safety Award of the Year, to be awarded to a company with the best legal compliance record when it comes to Health and Safety or the lowest Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR);
  • Best Corporate Social Responsibility Programme of the Year, to
  • be awarded to a company with a CSI project that makes the biggest impact on the lives of its beneficiaries;
  • Customer Service Award of the Year, to be awarded to a company with the best/highest rating by its customers for its performance in customer service;
  • Most transformed company of the Year (X2), to be awarded to the most transformed company in terms of the composition of its Board of Directors, Executive Management and Managerial Team: one category will pit companies employing fewer than 100 people against one another, and the second category will pit companies employing more than 100 companies against one another.
  • Decade of the Artisan Award, to be awarded to a company with the highest number of artisans trained each year (for itself and/or the industry).
  • Among the awards to be given out in the CEO’s Awards category will be one for the SEIFSA-affiliated Employer Association of the Year, to be given to an Association that has worked hard to grow its membership and to ensure alignment with the Federation and its other Associations.

So, does your company excel in anyone of the categories mentioned above? If so, enter the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence and stand a chance to be recognised for your excellence. Such recognition should help you to improve morale among your employees, to motivate them and, through your marketing efforts, to get your company to stand out among its competitors. For more details, please visit www.seifsaawards.co.za.

Winners of the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence will be announced at a dinner that will take place on 26 May 2016, the first day of the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba 2016. Now in its second year, this vital conference will take place on 26-27 May at the IDC Conference Centre in Sandton, following our conclusion of a strategic partnership with the Industrial Development Corporation.

Now in its second year, the 2016 Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba will be bigger and better, with speakers from our sector and related sectors, such as auto manufacturing, construction and mining. Former President Kgalema Motlanthe will open the conference and Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane will deliver the closing address. For more details, please visit www.meindaba.co.za.

Register now. In recognition of the current state of our sector and the economy, delegate fees have been reduced – and there is a 10% discount for those registering before 15 March 2016! Don’t miss out. Book now.

I look forward to seeing you at the second Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba in Sandton on 26-27 May.