SA faces exodus of skilled artisans in the wake of lacklustre wage deal

South Africa is facing a skills shortage in the metal and engineering industry.

South Africa is facing a skills shortage in the metal and engineering industry.

Published May 15, 2024


A skills shortage in the metal and engineering industry in the country is looming following the signing of the three-year wage agreement by the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

The concerns raised by Solidarity Trades’ Network come after Seifsa, as recently as May 13, signed a wage agreement at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg for the period from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2027, almost two months before the expiry of the current agreement.

According to the agreement, workers in Rate A will reportedly get a 6% rise in the first year, followed by a 5% rise in the second and third years.

Workers in Rate H, on the other hand, are to receive a 7% rise in the first year, and a 6% rise in the next two years.

The agreement also highlights a joint effort to come up with a plan for industry policy aimed at rebuilding public infrastructure and making sure that the sector can keep going.

While many others have commended the organisations for coming to the speedy agreement without clashes or protracted strike action, trade union Solidarity Trades’ Network said they were concerned that the “unacceptable” wage agreement could instead lead to the large-scale emigration of artisans from the country.

The union’s Stef Pretorius said many of their members were unhappy that the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) agreement would only be applicable until 2027.

Pretorius said this was because they believed this showed a disregard for the value of skilled employees.

“State entities have ignored the value of skills, and this has led to the disintegration of one state entity after the other, and it is now clear that employer organisations at the MEIBC have not learnt from the Eskom lessons.

“We (The Trades’ Network) are involved in retrenchment processes on a daily basis, and one of the reasons for failed organisations is that skilled workers are not valued, as can be seen by the wage proposal Seifsa made to skilled employees.

“The offer determines that the employees on the lowest skills rating will receive an increase of between 7% and 6% per year, whereas the skilled employees, including artisans, on the higher grades will receive increases of between 6% and 5% per year,” Pretorius said.

According to the trade union, the main problem with the wage proposal is that the increases applied to the industry’s fixed minimum wage rates and not on employees’ actual wage rates, meaning the increases for skilled workers and artisans would in reality only be between 1% and 2%.

Pretorius added that given the industry’s fixed minimum wage rates were outdated and no longer reflected reality, the impact of the proposed increases on skilled employees was huge.

“An amount of approximately R150 per hour since 2021 means that employees have suffered a loss of approximately R29 600 per year since 2021 until 2023 as increases have not been applied according to real wage rates.

“The newly proposed MEIBC agreement, stretching from 2024 to 2027, will result in a further loss of around R50 400 over the next three years for the same employee.”

Willie Venter, head of the Trades’ Network, added: “The agreement will be the death knell for skills in the metal and engineering industry, all because these short-sighted actions will leave artisans with no choice but to take their skills to other industries and even to other countries where their skills are valued.”

The Star