The past few months have been very hectic for the SEIFSA team, especially for Operations Director Lucio Trentini, Chief Financial Officer Rajendra Rajcoomar and myself. Supported by a great team led by Associations Manager Theresa Crowley, we have been involved in a series of meetings with General Managers, Managing Directors and Chief Executive Officers of companies that were members of the South African Engineers and Founders Association (SAEFA).

Although these engagements began some months ago, they have accelerated since 1 December 2016 when we were informed by the Chairman of that Association that, at its Special General Meeting a day earlier, SAEFA had decided to resign from the 74-year-old Federation. In addition to these meetings with leaders of companies that are/were members of that Association, we have also held regional roadshows on the East Rand, the West Rand, the Midrand area, Johannesburg and the Vaal Triangle to talk about the SEIFSA membership value proposition and to ask companies to remain within the SEIFSA family.

At the time of writing, colleagues and I were still in the middle of this process. However, we have been very well received by the companies with which we have held meetings so far and our regional roadshows have been well attended. Indeed, the number of former SAEFA member companies that have switched to other SEIFSA-affiliated Associations collectively employ by far the majority of the employees working for companies that were members of SAEFA before the unfortunate 30 November 2016 de-federation decision.

Given the importance of this matter not only to the companies concerned, but also to the entire SEIFSA family and, indeed, the metals and engineering sector, I have decided to deal comprehensively with the SAEFA resignation in my column in this issue of SEIFSA News. I do so in the form of a question-and-answer interview for the benefit of any interested stakeholders and, indeed, those companies that have yet to make the decision to remain affiliated to an Association that continues to be part of the SEIFSA family.

Why did SAEFA resign from SEIFSA?

For some time now, the Association has not been aligned with SEIFSA and its member Associations on a number of issues. These include approaches on the position of the financially-challenged Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council and extension of collective agreements to non-parties, among others. The SEIFSA constituency regards the MEIBC as an important institution whose survival is vital for industrial stability in the sector, and believes that ideally collective agreements reached by the majority of parties in negotiations should be extended to non-parties, while SAEFA holds different views on these issues.

Were the disagreements of such a nature that they could not have been solved?

To the end, we believed strongly that a way could be found to ensure alignment between the SAEFA leadership and SEIFSA. After all, for many years SAEFA was one of the most loyal members and ardent supporters of the Federation. Things started to change when the current leadership of SAEFA was elected two years ago. Regrettably, despite numerous efforts by the SEIFSA Executive Team and the Board to resolve differences with the Association, in the end some in the SAEFA leadership campaigned actively and aggressively for the Association to resign from SEIFSA, South Africa’s oldest and largest employer representative in the metals and engineering sector.

We understand that the SAEFA leadership has been critical about the way in which SEIFSA has been led and has alleged that the organisation has failed to implement mandates from its members. How do you respond?

Yes, some in the top leadership of SAEFA have, indeed, made a series of unfounded allegations against SEIFSA and have been very reluctant to accept incontrovertible facts that disprove their allegations. It is important to note that these allegations have been made by some individuals, and not by the entire Association or all of those in its leadership, and that they are both malicious and baseless.

For the record, SEIFSA is strictly a mandate-driven organization. The Federation derives its mandates from its members, which meet in an assembly of Associations called the SEIFSA Council, to debate matters and agree on a common position that becomes the Federation’s mandate. This has always been the way in which the Federation has operated. When there is no unanimity among member Associations on any matter, the majority position adopted at the SEIFSA Council becomes SEIFSA’s mandate on that matter.

SAEFA has also alleged that SEIFSA has not been as virulently outspoken as NEASA against the unions and the Government. How do you respond?

For a start, unlike others, SEIFSA does not consider the Government and labour as enemies. Instead, we view them as important stakeholders with whom we have to work cooperatively to advance the interests of our sector and to grow the country’s economy. Where we disagree with either stakeholder group, we say so boldly, and when we agree with them on any matter, we work with them as enthusiastic partners.

Secondly, SEIFSA is a federation representing employers throughout the broad metals and engineering value chain. These range from primary steel producers through to metal fabricators, and from small companies employing anything up to 50 people to large, listed or multi-national companies in different sub-sectors of the metals and engineering sector with thousands of employees. Given this vast and diverse constituency, SEIFSA does not easily and readily make public pronouncements on matters in a manner that organisations representing only employers of a particular kind can or do. When it makes public pronouncements, SEIFSA endeavours to represent the views of all – or most – of its constituency. That calls for great circumspection, which is not the case with the organization to which we are being unfairly compared.

How will SAEFA’s resignation affect SEIFSA?

Unfortunately, SAEFA’s resignation weakens the Federation at a time when greater unity of purpose is required among employers to solve the challenges that confront the sector, including the welfare of the MEIBC and the 2017 negotiations on wages and conditions of employment. To that extent, the resignation affects SEIFSA.

However, the Federation still represents 25 loyal employer Associations, which collectively employ the majority of factory workers (in excess of 150 000) in the metals and engineering sector. It remains the authoritative voice of employers in the sector, represents them in collective bargaining and lobbies on their behalf. It remains the only employer representative in the sector with healthy relations with all stakeholders, including labour and the Government, and believes firmly that it will take a solid partnership among Government, business and labour to get South Africa to realize its economic potential.

How many companies are members of SAEFA (and are all of them lost to SEIFSA)?

Just over 500 companies were members of SAEFA. Many of them were unhappy with the decision taken by the Association’s leadership and have since resigned from the Association because they want to remain part of SEIFSA. We expect many more to do so in the weeks and months to come. These companies are joining some of the existing SEIFSA-affiliated Associations, while others are planning to form new Associations that will be affiliated with SEIFSA. We expect at least 300 of these companies (60%) to continue to be part of the SEIFSA family. Collectively, these companies employ by far the vast majority of employees within that Association.

Many companies want to remain within SEIFSA for many reasons, apart from the fact that most of them have had a strong, productive association with the Federation over the years (in the case of some companies, for longer than 50 years). They know that, unlike any other employer organization in the sector, SEIFSA has unequalled experience in collective bargaining, employs qualified and experienced subject-matter experts in a number of Divisions (e.g. Economics and Commercial; Industrial Relations and Legal Services; Human Capital and Skills Development; Safety, Health, Environment and Quality, etc.) and offers a series of important products and services (like the unique SEIFSA Prices and Index Pages) which they access at a discounted price.

Will SEIFSA and SAEFA adopt adversarial positions in the 2017 Negotiations on Wages and Conditions of Employment?

SEIFSA’s philosophy is to work constructively and cooperatively with all stakeholders, whether they be fellow employer organisations or labour unions. That will continue to be our approach not only to the 2017 Negotiations, but to all other matters in which we are involved. We may have differences with the current leadership of SAEFA, but we do not see them or their Association as an enemy. Our approach to these matters is professional, and not personal. We will work with all employer parties within the MEIBC when we are in agreement on issues, as we have always done, and we will advance SEIFSA’s views and interests when there is no agreement with fellow employer parties.

What would you say are the main differences between SEIFSA and SAEFA?

We are comfortable to talk about what we (SEIFSA) stand for, and not so much what others stand for. Fundamentally, SEIFSA believes in:

working closely with our member Associations to further their interests;

effective lobbying of (or with) stakeholders (Government, business and labour) to advance the interests of our members;

constructive collective bargaining which results in a win-win outcome that leads to an internationally competitive metals and engineering sector that can preserve – and even create – jobs;

working with labour, as partners, to solve the challenges which confront the sector, including its non-competitiveness, and to lobby policy makers together in the interest of the sector; and

a solid, collaborative partnership among Government, business and labour.

Kaizer M. Nyatsumba

Chief Executive Officer