Reflecting on 2022, members of the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) undoubtedly recall a momentous juncture that reshaped the landscape for Small, Medium, and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). During this significant period, official communication reverberated throughout the MEIBC, bearing news of a landmark triumph for small businesses. For the first time in the Council’s history, the voices of SMMEs resonated, breaking a decade-long silence marked by the non-signatory stance of some employers’ organisations and employers. MEIBC Industry members must be reminded that the resistance was fueled by concerns over exorbitant wage rates at that time. However, after years of impasse, a breakthrough was achieved through extensive dialogues with various stakeholders within the Council. These discussions culminated in a secure victory for small businesses in that the new MEIBC Main Agreement heralded a turning point for the industry.

Furthermore, recognising the historical oversight that left SMMEs at a disadvantage, the COVID-19 pandemic was a further challenge as many businesses were closed. However, the newly minted MEIBC Main Agreement introduced a groundbreaking provision – the “special phase-in exemption”. Prior to 2022, SMMEs faced the stark reality of operating without a small-employer dispensation, a predicament that proved economically burdensome for fledgling businesses. In a strategic move to rectify this longstanding disparity, parties to the MEIBC concluded a mechanism in the main collective agreement: The “special phase-in exemption”. This innovative provision allows SMMEs to incrementally phase in their wage obligations in a financially tenable manner for small and emerging enterprises. As the inaugural phase of this exemption draws to a close, and with the Main Collective Agreement coming to an end on 30 June 2024, it symbolises a crucial stride towards fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for the growth and sustainability of SMMEs within the Metal and Engineering Industry.

It is imperative for employers to be mindful of the challenging landscape that accompanied the implementation of the new “special phase-in exemption” in the MEIBC Main Agreement. While most metal and engineering members have rallied in support of the “special phase-in exemption” agreement, it remains essential to acknowledge small businesses facing financial constraints while embracing the small-employer dispensations.

Despite the phased-in dispensation, employers are still grappling with affordability concerns. In response to these challenges, the Main Agreement incorporated a flexible exemptions policy, recognising the unique circumstances of such businesses. For those who have availed themselves of the first phase of the “special phase-in exemption”, heightened awareness is crucial, and you will need to stay tuned to our social media platforms for timely updates on the unfolding developments related to the MEIBC national wage negotiations set to commence in early 2024.

Furthermore, for members falling within the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI), these employers must note that the national wage negotiations for the sector are also scheduled to commence in early 2024, as the Main Collective Agreement will be coming to an end on 30 August 2024. The construction and mining sector, already grappling with numerous challenges predating the COVID-19 era, faces hurdles such as the presence of the construction mafia, a shortage of construction projects, job losses, and the protracted recovery from the pandemic’s aftermath. In light of these circumstances, we urge CEO members to be vigilant for forthcoming communications from our offices regarding the acquisition of mandates. Furthermore, non-CEO members are encouraged to stay updated on the latest developments related to wage negotiations by visiting our social media platforms for timely and pertinent information. This proactive engagement will be instrumental in navigating the complexities of the negotiation process and ensuring the representation of diverse perspectives within the BCCEI sector.

In conclusion, the seemingly prevailing trend in South Africa points towards centralised bargaining as the most preferred method among trade unions for negotiations. This approach, where employers within a specific sector engage in collective bargaining with one or more trade unions representing their employees, has numerous advantages. As we anticipate negotiations in the upcoming year, it is crucial for all parties involved to carefully consider the current economic landscape, particularly the alarming levels of unemployment in South Africa. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges during the bargaining process will be essential for fostering sustainable and equitable agreements that contribute to peace and labour stability.

Article By Ernest Masupye

Senior Collective Bargaining Co-Ordinator at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)