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To offset the effects of the crisis induced by the pandemic, they demand immediate wage increases and the indexation of their wages to inflation.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) initiated a nationwide strike this Wednesday. It demand a salary increase of 8 percent this year and a salary increase of 2 percentage points above the inflation rate for the next 2 years.
“We are left with no choice but to strike and to withhold our labor indefinitely until the bosses give into our just demands,” said NUMSA, which has already staged several public protests and marches in Johannesburg. Currently, a smaller union, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), is considering supporting the strike. A final decision is expected on Friday.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) offered a 4.4 percent increase for this year, plus 0.5 percent above the inflation rate for 2022. This offer, however, was deemed insuficcient by the workers.
Due to the dissatisfaction that South African workers feel about their current working conditions, average absenteeism reaches 26 percent, according to a recent SEIFSA poll.
“And I fear… this number will grow as the strike continues through the week,” said Lucio Trentini, the chief executive of FEDUSA, a federation representing over 1,000 firms. Officials worry this could become a repeat of the 2014 four-week strike which cost the economy about US$397 million.
The COVID-19 pandemic deeply impacted local industries. Since 2020, for example, South African auto exports and domestic sales have fallen by roughly 30 percent. Employers cited this as a reason why they did not accept the workers' demands.
Ford, BMW and Nissan could be among the transnational companies affected if employers and workers do not agree and the strike is prolonged.