Electrical contractors go on strike

The national strike in the electrical contracting industry continued yesterday, the Electrical Contractor's Association (ECA) said.

The national strike in the electrical contracting industry continued yesterday, the Electrical Contractor's Association (ECA) said.

Chris Greager, the ECA's national director of operations, said members of the SA Equity Workers Association (Saewa) began the protected strike on Friday and marched to the ECA's offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein.

He said the strike resulted from a deadlock in the yearlywage negotiations at the national bargaining council for the electrical industry.

The ECA, which is the employer party to the bargaining council, made a final wage offer on December 14 last year.

This included a wage increase of 8,5percent on the wage rates laid down in the council's agreement and a 7,5percent increase to all those earning in excess of the laid down rates.

In addition, a further increase of no more than 4percent was offered to all employees in areas where wages are lower than those in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. This additional offer was an endeavour to phase out the geographical wage differentials over the next few years.

"The most contentious issue in the negotiations has been the retention of the agency shop fee - which is provided for in the Labour Relations Act and requires employers to deduct from non-unionised members a fee for services rendered at negotiations. As Saewa is the only trade union which is a party to the council, the fee was the same as its monthly membership subscription," Greager said.

The ECA discovered during negotiations that during the period February to September last year, the amounts paid to the union amounted to R1959219,89 in respect of Saewa subscriptions, and R3565120,86 in respect of the agency shop fee, he said.

This meant that its membership was well below the threshold to qualify for the agency shop fee in terms of the Act.

"As a result of this finding, the ECA insisted that a forensic audit be undertaken into the union's representative position, and on how the agency shop monies had been utilised. Eventually the union agreed to the audit during mediation proceedings, and it is currently being conducted by the Department of Labour".

Initially, the ECA indicated that it would not discuss the matter further until the outcome of the audit was known.

On January 4, the union accepted, in writing, the offer from the ECA, subject to the agency shop agreement being retained.

In an attempt to finalise negotiations, the ECA informed the union that, provided the forensic audit revealed it was representative of the majority of its members' employees, it would agree to an agency shop fee of 25 percent of its subscription.

"This was rejected and the union advised that it would proceed with industrial action," Greager said.

In a final attempt to resolve the impasse, a further mediation meeting was held beforethe Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration senior commissioner Meshack Ravuku on January 29. The union indicated that it would only accept the employers' final offer if it agreed to the agency shop fee being set at 75percent of its subscription.

ECA refused and reaffirmed its offer of a 25percent deduction. Saewa general secretary, Robert McAlpine said the union had demanded a wage increase of 10 percent. - Sapa