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The three-year agreement on wages and conditions of employment reached in July 2014 in negotiations between employers and labour in the metals and engineering sector was not perfect, as is the case with all agreements that are products of negotiations.

By their very nature, negotiations are a give and take. They bring together at least two sides that often approach them with differing – and often conflicting – interests and desired outcomes in mind. If the parties to negotiations are equally strong, often the final product of the talks is something that addresses most of their respective concerns, something that the respective parties can live with. However, if one side is considerably stronger than the other or the others, then a real possibility exists that the final product of the talks is likely to be more favourable to that party.

In South Africa’s pre-democracy talks at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) at the World Trade Centre in the Auckland Park area, the same principles applied. The then-governing National Party (NP) and those supporting it managed to extract some important concessions, as did the African National Congress and those supporting it.

Among other things, the NP and its allies got Afrikaans maintained as one of the country’s official languages and a section of Die Stem incorporated into post-apartheid South Africa’s national anthem. The Inkatha Freedom Party – which had insisted on a federal or even confederal government system – and the Progressive Federal Party managed to secure a deal that saw South Africa with nine provincial governments. General Constand Viljoen’s Freedom Front extracted a concession for a referendum – as part of the founding democratic elections – on a homeland for Afrikaners, as part of “self determination”, and the ANC managed to get affirmation action and the need for land redistribution (with compensation) written into the Constitution.

Except for those on the extreme left and the extreme right (think of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania and the Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging), each one of these parties managed to get some concession on what they considered to be of paramount importance to them. None got everything that it had wanted. In the process, South Africa was the winner, emerging with one of the best Constitutions in the world, which is sovereign, unlike in the apartheid era when Parliament was sovereign.

That is the nature of negotiations.

The historic agreement that led to our founding democratic elections of 27 April 1994 became possible because the main parties in those negotiations recognised that South Africa had to be put first and accepted one another’s bona fides as compatriots. Although politically and ideologically they belonged to different schools of thought, nevertheless they accepted the basic fact that they were interlocutors who saw the world differently and had different experiences during our dark era of apartheid, and were not enemies. Some, like ANC and NP chief negotiators Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer respectively, even developed so strong a relationship that at times they went fishing together and subsequently became personal friends.

Therefore, although the three-year Settlement Agreement that ended the month-long strike in July 2014 was not perfect, nevertheless it offered employers and labour something that was of importance to them. In the case of employers, that was a concession on Section 37, which protects employers from union demands for company-level bargaining on matters that were up for discussion in the negotiations within the Metals and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council – such as housing. So strongly did employers feel on that issue that there could not possibly have been a settlement without them being accommodated on it.

Equally importantly, employers managed – despite labour’s initial vehement objection – to obtain a three-year settlement, thus guaranteeing stability in the sector for a three-year period. Such stability is not to be scoffed at or taken for granted. At a time when our economy is doing so badly and the metals and engineering sector is bleeding, instability would have been absolutely disastrous. It has been good to have three years of stability since the 2014-2017 MEIBC Settlement Agreement.

Although negotiations are, by definition, a process of give and take, it helps to ensure that one enters them fully prepared. The three-year agreement concluded in July 2014 expires in June next year, and negotiations on a new agreement are set to begin formally early next year, most likely in March. Although that may seem to be far away, it is, in fact, just around the corner.

Therefore, it is vital that SEIFSA and its member Associations start preparing seriously now for the 2017 negotiations on wages and conditions of employment. Of necessity, part of those preparations must be a very careful assessment of which issues are of such fundamental importance to employers that they will not be willing to make any concessions on them and which ones employers would be happy to drop or make concessions on in the course of the negotiations.

Similarly, it will be important to ensure that a careful assessment is made – taking into consideration all economic and socio-political developments in present-day South Africa and the mood of the country – of which issues or employer “demands” are realistic and which ones are not realistic. Going into negotiations with unrealistic demands that subsequently have to be dropped weakens – rather than strengthens – one’s position in talks.

Therefore, it is crucial that, as SEIFSA and its member Associations spend time debating other issues, they do not lose sight of the need to prioritize preparations for next year’s all-important MEIBC negotiations on wages and conditions of employment. Necessarily, this will entail them having serious – and even robust – discussions and debates among themselves, ahead of the emergence of a firm SEIFSA mandate for the 2017 negotiations.

We at SEIFSA stand ready to assist and play our part in the process. We remain clear in our minds about our roles: member Associations, through the SEIFSA Council, will develop the negotiating mandate and, working with representatives from the respective Associations, we will do the very best that we can to implement that mandate. Operations Director Lucio Trentini will be our Main Negotiator (to use the CODESA analogy, he will be our Cyril Ramaphosa or our Roelf Meyer). He is a very experienced man who has been around for many years and who enjoys the respect of our labour partners. The CEO will get involved in the event of a deadlock when talks need to be arranged with our labour partners’ Secretaries General.

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The Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba (www.meindaba.co.za) and the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence (www.seifsaawards.co.za), which took place at the IDC Conference Centre in Sandton last month, were a great success. My thanks go to all the companies that sent delegates to the conference and to those individuals who were the delegates.

The Indaba is the cover story for this issue of SEIFSA News, which also features winners of the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence. My congratulations go to all the winners in the respective categories and to the many other companies that entered for the Awards.

From the comments of the Chief Judges in the different categories during the awards ceremony, it was evident that the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence, now in their second year, have grown considerably both in popularity and in importance among companies in the metals and engineering sector. It was also clear that the quality of entries for 2015 was much higher than was the case in the Awards’ inaugural year (2014). We are confident that that there will be many more, high-quality entries for 2016, with the results to be announced around May 2017.

In their first two years, the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence ceremony has ridden on the back of the annual Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. Last year it took place during dinner on the first day of the conference, and this year it took place during a light breakfast on the second day of the conference. From 2017 onwards, the SEIFSA Awards ceremony will be a grander, stand-alone event most likely on a Friday evening in May, with the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba scheduled for 14-15 September 2017.

We are keen to make the annual SEIFSA Awards for Excellence ceremony an event not to be missed. Therefore, we would be delighted to have companies which embrace excellence to partner with us, as sponsors, for the awards ceremony next year. They should please contact our Marketing Manager, Ms Faith Mabaso, on the e-mail address faith@seifsa.co.za.

As I indicated in my opening and closing remarks at the Second Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba, I am immensely grateful to our Partners, the Industrial Development Corporation, which hosted the Indaba as value-in-kind sponsorship, and the Department of Trade and Industry. My thanks also go to our various sponsors – MerSeta, Investec, Standard Bank, Old Mutual, Novare, SMS Group, Sage VIP, RMA and Transman – and media partners.  The Indaba would not have taken place without them.

We look forward to a long, mutually-rewarding partnership with all of them – and with new sponsors that would like to come on board.

Kaizer M. Nyatsumba

Chief Executive Officer

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