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S Africa metal workers 'reject wage offer'

Unions steadfast on their demand of 15 percent as strike threatens to push country closer to recession.

Last updated: 04 Jul 2014 19:46
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The ongoing industrial action has hit an estimated 10,500 companies across South Africa [EPA]

Striking South African engineering and metals workers have rejected an improved wage offer to end the country's
largest-ever strike, firms say, as the stoppage begins to affect the vital car-manufacturing sector.

Representatives for the roughly 200,000 workers who initiated the industrial action on July 1, rejected a 10 percent pay increase for some employees this year and nine and eight percent increase in 2015 and 2016, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) said on Friday.

Kaizer Nyatsumba. the CEO of SEIFSA, said the multi-year offer was the "the very best" firms could do "under these difficult economic circumstances", raising the spectre of protracted negotiations.

The National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) - the country's largest union representing workers across several sectors - has demanded wage increases of up to 15 percent in a one year deal.

The strike has hit an estimated 10,500 companies across South Africa and threatens to push the country further towards a recession.

"Regrettably, it would appear that we continue to be miles apart with the union," Nyatsumba said.

In contrast, Irvin Jim, NUMSA's head, said he believed the two sides were "not very far from each other".

He told Reuters news agency that issues like a youth-wage subsidy and the removal of labour brokers were key to a settlement to end the strike.

Other sticking points have been NUMSA's insistence that any agreement be for one year, while the employers want to seal a three-year deal.

The South African economy shrank in the first quarter amid a five-month-long platinum strike that was only resolved last week.

The country's labour minister is due to meet with the union and employers on Friday, a spokesman told Reuters, adding the government was "quite hopeful" a deal could be reached soon.

There were already signs that the engineering and metals strike was being felt beyond the sectors directly affected.

General Motors reported that assembly at its main plant near Port Elizabeth had been halted because of a lack or parts.

"The strike in the metal and engineering sector has impacted upon supply of components to our production line and we have had no other option but to halt assembly as of 3 July 2014," Gishma Johnson, a General Motors spokeswoman, said.

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