CASE IN POINT // MEIBC
by Andrew Ngozo
Transformation into the Future
For a host of reasons, the year 2013 is one that will be remembered by many South Africans. The year will hold particularly fond memories for the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) says Thulani Mthiyane, General Secretary, Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council. CEO Magazine met up with the General Secretary to reflect on the year that was 2013 and have a sneak peek into what lies ahead in the near future.
Amidst many strides and achievements made during the year, Mthiyane shares that a solid foundation for transformation has been laid. As 2013 draws to an end and 2014 is at the door, the Council shall endeavour to continue to offer a service oriented approach and continue with the good works of its previous leadership. “When my predecessor assumed office, he was tasked with transforming the council to reflect the industry that it serves. They were tasked
with formulating strategies that would make the MEIBC a well-known brand in general. We are building on their efforts and implementing the outstanding plans from their strategic document,” says Mthiyane. He observes that the present council has continued to make sure that employment in, and within, the industry is fair and takes into account all the factors that were noted then. In short, it means that the Council will continue to represent the industry to the best of its ability and look to grow its influence wherever possible.
The Siyanqoba Business Strategy
From an organisational perspective, the MEIBC has increased the number of female leaders in management positions. In an industry that is still male dominated, this is a significant stride. The number of female agents has also seen substantial growths, reveals Mthiyane. These are females who, in the main, go out there and deal with the men in the industry. Confidently, Mthiyane states that thus far, “we have fulfilled the dreams of the MEIBC parties: that is largely transforming the Council into the future. Most of this work has been done within the first year of the Siyanqoba Business Strategy [SBS]”. There are a number of initiatives that the MEIBC intends to make use of in order to dispel the myths and lure more females into the sector. “I can confidently share that the industry as we see it today is a vastly changed one. Just five years ago, females only served in the industry as tea ladies or cleaners. But today, one can walk into any factory under our scope and you will realise that there is quite a sizeable number of females involved in mainstream production”.
Elaborating on the SBS, Mthiyane reveals that a lot has been done to achieve the goals as set out in the strategy. One of the key objectives of the Siyanqoba Business Strategy is to ensure the Council fully serves the industry. “We aim to ensure the visibility of the Council to its constituency.” He adds that the Council resolved to visit at least 80% of the companies registered within its scope by means of routine inspections. Lastly, the MEIBC seeks to register those unregistered companies and, in the process, succeed in increasing its revenue.Until recently most people were not paying levies, provident or pension fund contributions, says Mthiyane. “They did this on the basis that they knew that the Council will never visit them. As such, they believed the fact that they were not paying, was not going to be noticed.” However, with much hard work from all team members to realise the MEIBC vision, “We have realised an increase in the levies paid and this applies to levies paid by both employers and employees. Visits by Council agents to different companies have also risen.”
According to Mthiyane, advisory services to firms who want to comply with the industry agreement were rendered to them. “Gladly, I can state that our goal of reaching an 80% target of companies visited has yielded fruit. By the end of 2012, the Council had visited about 600 companies for routine inspections. However, as we draw towards the end of 2013, that figure has almost tripled which is a good indicator of our efforts,” he reveals. Efforts from everyone at the MEIBC have contributed to the Council’s huge achievements in so little time. The support of the employees, staff and management committee of the Council has been a highlight on its own. “We are very humbled to see that we are getting a lot of support from all Council corners including the management committee. That, for the office, is encouraging as it makes us feel welcome; that we are home and working with family who go beyond and appreciate what we are trying to do”. Such a concerted team effort is just the recipe that the Council needs in order to tackle the ‘inevitable challenges’ which are likely to result from the New Year.
According to Mthiyane, the year 2014 will see the sector in a prominent position as it will be the only large industry engaged in wage negotiations. Of course, with the events in different industries in 2013, one cannot rule out that there will be strikes in 2014. There are various reasons thereof. “Firstly, the workers are expecting that the increases awarded to other industries should also apply to our industry,” he points out. On the other hand employers feel that they are paying very high wages already which in turn do not encourage other players to come and invest in the industry. “Our priority is, therefore, that we prepare for these negotiations and assist parties to expediently arrive at resolutions. If possible, we would like to see this happening without the industry having to go on strike. We all know that when there is a strike, there is always a possibility that it may end in tragedy; which no one wants to see. “In our role as the MEIBC, we aim to ensure that the Department of Labour is very close to the process. In other words, they should understand the dynamics, and the difficulties and they can assist when and where they can, before the situation gets out of hand. When the negotiations start, we intend to ensure that everybody is ready to place all hands on deck to find an everlasting industry solution. It is the Council’s mandate to lead that process and ensure that resolutions are arrived at, possibly without a strike and with as little damage as possible.”
The MEIBC has adopted a service oriented approach but what does it actually mean for the Council and its stakeholders? Mthiyane explains that one of their key responsibilities is to see to it that the industry, as a whole, complies with the industry agreement. That process will allow for investment and an industry that competes fairly. That is only one of the MEIBC’s major responsibilities. “However, over and above that, we want to rid people of the perception that we are ‘policemen’. Instead, we want to be perceived as an entity that adds value to business and the industry”. One may ask how such a mountain of a task will be carried out. Mthiyane is quick to point out that by educating all relevant stakeholders about the industry agreement to such an extent that each interested party has a full grasp of their responsibility, the Council believes that, in this manner, each stakeholder will comfortably comply with the terms thereof.
Serving with Honest and Integrity
In the event that a company is struggling, be it financially or otherwise, and may be required to apply for exemption, then further education in this regard takes place, notes Mthiyane. Such companies are educated on the correct processes and procedures to follow in order that the proper exemption application is carried out. It is hoped that by offering such assistance to these parties, they will feel part and parcel with the Council. “Further to this, we hope that, our actions will communicate to employers that we are not the ‘police’. Quite to the contrary, we are putting across to them that, indeed, to a certain extent, our job entails a degree of policing but in reality it goes further than that. The MEIBC wants to help companies and the industry at large. Therefore, we would like to see them approaching the Council so that they get the added value in their respective businesses.” He stresses that the Council does not intend to go and chase after organisations but, “we are of the belief that in offering them a benefit that comes as a result of being a Council member, they will see the value. At the same time we are mindful of the need to make the industry grow and it is the Council’s intention to serve the industry with honesty and integrity”.
The general secretary is a man with a vision and he elaborates on that; which is essentially for the Council to go beyond adding value to business and labour. This means that when the agreements are concluded by the Council and the parties, the agreements talk to the industry, he expounds. This mission entails assisting those parties as they negotiate towards an industry agreement by presenting them with well researched information. Researched data means global and national events in the industry; this can be information relating to all companies from the small to the medium and the big enterprises. At the end of the day, the intention is for an agreement whose end product talks directly to the needs of employers. Mthiyane emphasises: “If employers are only able to invest in this industry because of a certain rate that they will be able to pay, and thus increase employment in the sector, then we present this trend to them. This will be done regardless of whether the events are a national, regional or global phenomenon or practice. Presentation of this information will be done in such a manner that it gets the attention that it deserves. All companies, be they big or small, are in the business to make the profit and continue investing in the industry, as well as employ people whom they pay decent wages. This is our pledge to the industry and we intend to deliver on it”.
Lessons from the Year 2013
The year 2013 saw much conflict between labour and business. At a certain interval, the motor industry threatened to bring the economy to a standstill. Although this eventually never happened, the damage done to South Africa’s economy cannot be undone. In Mthiyane’s view, there are a number of ‘take-outs’ that the parties learn from the events of 2013 in order to avoid a near total collapse of the economy. “In my opinion there are two lessons that can be drawn from the labour situation of 2013; for us, the industry and South Africa in general. We acknowledge that there is pressure on both employers and employees as a result of the economic downturn. Employers are faced with a host of challenges with respect to their businesses. No one is certain that we are not going to experience the same in the near future,” says Mthiyane. In light of this, when employers increase employees’ salaries, they need to do so with sustainability in mind. Hence they will be reluctant give an increase they cannot sustain should the economy not perform well.
On the other hand, there are the employees who are faced with a very high cost of living. They are often faced with a scenario where all their salaries’ money is spent on transport and food and there is none left for children’s education and other things. “The same as with employers, employees have to make demands with sustainability in mind so that they can secure a future for their children”. The most important question to ask in this regard is: What needs to be done going forward? “I suppose as South African business people, trade unions and employees, we have failed in that at times we conclude a three year agreement and then go away. There are no consultations with each other until such a time that, things have reached a boiling point and the agreement has expired. But even then, during any consultations, what do we put across as our priorities?” he asks.
“The priorities are the issues that I have made reference to; that is the cost of living for the workers. We don’t really reflect on what happens in the build up to these negotiations and therein lies the problem South Africa faces. We are thus saying that things that happened, say, two years back, should inform our future deliberations and decisions as we try to find solutions for the industry. This process is one that requires strong leadership that understands the dynamics of what happens on the ground,” he declares. The leadership Mthiyane is talking about is one that will be willing to compromise for the sake of the business to continue existing. These are leaders who will compromise for the sake of their employees, as well as ensuring their employment until they reach the age of retirement. “But for that to happen, you don’t have to sleep for three years to wake up and deal with a fundamental issue which is wages and working conditions. Continuous and on-going engagement regarding all dynamics has to be the industry’s life blood,” he notes. In conclusion, Mthiyane shares his thoughts and perspectives with fellow industry role players.
The Council exists because of the industry and the Council’s resources come from them. “In that respect, we are not in the business of closing down businesses. However we are in the trade of making sure that anyone who is covered by our scope is afforded, at the very least, a chance at fair competition in the industry. Promoting fair competition means doing away with issues such as unequal paying levels when comparing with employees of similar grading in the same sector. We will continue to support in every way we can. The bargaining council is in a position to grow the business space in South Africa and, in a small way, we will play a part towards contributing to dealing with the high levels of unemployment in South Africa”.
A Statutory Body
The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council is a statutory body created under the Labour Relations Act (LRA) to provide for the co-regulation of stable and productive employment relations in the metal and engineering industries. The Council is an industry based forum of organised business and labour that regulates employment conditions and labour relations in the metal and engineering industry. It provides the necessary, administrative infrastructure and technical expertise to ensure effective collective bargaining, industry compliance, dispute resolution and social protection services.