The Main Agreement is a collective agreement between the employer organisations and trade unions that constitute the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council. This agreement provides comprehensive conditions of employment for some 320 000 scheduled workers (including workers supplied by labour brokers) employed at over 10 000 companies in the industry. “Scheduled workers” are employees who are covered by the technical schedules in the Main Agreement.

The terms and conditions of employment in the Main Agreement are derived from the mandated and negotiated positions of the employer organisations, trade unions and their respective members.

When the agreement is published in the Government Gazette, it becomes legally binding on all employers engaged in the industry and those employees who fall under the scope of the Main Agreement. This gives rise to the next important question.


The Agreement provides legally binding and comprehensive conditions of employment, including minimum wage structures for all employees whose jobs are described in the Agreement. The Main Agreement contains 38 separate technical schedules, each one applicable to a particular sub-sector of the industry. These technical schedules detail the specific jobs, tasks and technical activities undertaken by employees engaged in the direct production process in those sectors.

In general, the Agreement’s scope of application is confined to all workshop, production, construction and site-based employees at the level of general labourers up to and including qualified artisans. It does not cover other categories of employees, such as office, administrative, sales, clerical and managerial staff.

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The purpose of the Main Agreement is to regulate the employment conditions of those employees engaged in manufacturing processes in the metal industry.

The existence of the Agreement plays a large part in ensuring stability and industrial peace in the industry – essentially because of the following:

  • The terms and conditions of employment in the Main Agreement are derived from regular negotiations between mandated employer organisations and representative trade unions in the industry. The employment conditions are not unilaterally imposed by management on employees, and these conditions also reflect current realities – for example, the annual wage increases are benchmarked according to inflationary trends.
  • The Agreement provides comprehensive conditions of employment, thereby obviating the need for company-level negotiations on conditions of employment.
  • It is legally binding on employers and employees. Any form of contravention – for example, an underpayment of wages – is investigated and remedied through action implemented by the bargaining council.
  • No form of protected strike or other form of industrial action is permitted during the operation of the Agreement.


In addition to the above, the Main Agreement provides the following advantages to employers and employees in the industry:

  • “A level playing field” in respect of employment conditions throughout the industry. This means that companies are unable to gain competitive advantage by undercutting wages or other employment benefits such as not contributing to the metal industry pension or provident funds.
  • Certainty with regard to the wage rates and specific conditions of employment applicable to the workforce. Nothing is left to chance, interpretation or debate.

Protection against approaches from employees and trade unions at company level to bargain wages and other conditions of employment. The stressful and time-consuming negotiation process takes place at industry level and is conducted by the full-time officials of the employer organisations and trade unions.

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Main Agreement – Summary of Key Provisions

The key conditions of employment in the Main Agreement are:

  • A 40-hour work week.
  • An employer is permitted to implement short-time working due to a shortage of work or materials or any other justifiable circumstances by serving five clear calendar days’ notice of this intention to the bargaining council, the affected employees and their trade unions.
  • Employees with more than one year’s service with the same employer are entitled to a maximum of six months’ unpaid maternity leave.
  • Employees in the industry are entitled to three consecutive weeks paid annual leave which must include four weekends and be for one unbroken period.
  • All qualifying employees are entitled to a leave bonus equivalent to 8.33 percent of their actual annual earnings.
  • The minimum notice period to be given by an employer or employee upon termination of employment is one week’s notice for employees with less than six months’ service and up to four weeks’ notice for employees with more than one year’s service.
  • Employers are entitled to apply to the bargaining council for exemption from any provision of the Main Agreement.
  • An employee is entitled to 30 working days’ paid sick leave in each three-year sick leave cycle.
  • The council is the only forum for negotiating matters contained in the Main Agreement.
  • The Main Agreement provides detailed security of employment provisions.
  • Employees who have been in the employ of the same employer for four months or longer must be granted three days’ paid family responsibility leave each year for childcare, compassionate leave, paternity leave and/or spouse illness reasons.


Once gazetted, the Main Agreement becomes legally binding on all employers in the industry and any contraventions such as the underpayment of wages or non-payment of public holidays are enforced by the staff of the bargaining council.

These contraventions may be identified as a consequence of an agent’s routine inspection of a company or a complaint lodged by an employee or ex-employee. Where the bargaining council agent identifies that a contravention of the Main Agreement has occurred, then this is initially discussed with management and an attempt is made to have it rectified. The following steps will be put into place if the contravention is not rectified at that level:

  • The agent will issue a formal assessment to the employer, identifying the contravention and giving the employer a specified time period within which to address the contravention. This generally is in the form of a requirement to pay a stipulated amount to the bargaining council (for transmission to the affected employee/s).
  • Failing appropriate action by the employer, the agent will issue a compliance order to the employer requiring compliance with the Main Agreement.
  • Where the company fails to comply within the stipulated period in the compliance order, the bargaining council will declare a dispute against the company.
  • An attempt will be made to conciliate the dispute. If unsuccessful, the dispute will be referred to final and binding arbitration.


The conditions of employment in the Main Agreement are summarised in the Main Agreement Handbook. Order yours today.

The Main Agreement Handbook is of great relevance to all employers in the metals and engineering sector, and not only those who are members of Associations affiliated to SEIFSA.


Through its Industrial Relations and Legal Services Division, SEIFSA offers comprehensive training on the Main Agreement. The Federation’s Industrial Relations and Legal Services staff members have specialized knowledge of collective bargaining, bargaining council agreements, dispute resolution and labour law. They are always on hand to guide members through South Africa’s maze of complex and ever-changing labour laws and bargaining council provisions.

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