One of the key aspects of our mission is to serve both labour and business with commitment, fairness and integrity. I believe that the vision and mission of an organisation needs to guide its day-to-day activities and, with the assistance of my leadership team, our constant focus on our guiding principles helps to serve both.
That being said, labour and business approach problems within the industry from very different perspectives. Labour uses its platform at the council to seek the best possible wages and working conditions for its members. Business on the other hand, wants to ensure that remuneration and associated benefits provides the basis for their employees to help them maximise profits and attain operational efficiencies.
Occasions will arise when business and labour differ on how to best achieve their individual goals. In those instances I believe we have two important responsibilities. The first is to assist parties with relevant information. Local and international wage trends; the movement of key economic indicators and sector forecasts all play a critical role in helping parties make an informed decision and where needed, meaningful compromises. The second responsibility is to ensure we serve all parties equally and to the best of our ability.
How do you determine when and where ‘flash points’ are developing in the sector?
Industry is dynamic and there are always issues that are taking shape and dissipating as they are resolved. The best way to know what is going on is by staying in touch with the industry. When we get a sense that an issue is starting to escalate and has the potential to have a negative impact on the industry, we address it by first speaking with labour and business on an individual basis. Thereafter we bring the parties together in discussion, which are facilitated by an expert in that field – this often goes a long way to solving problems.
What do you think the primary contribution of the MEIBC has been to the industry in recent times?
From our perspective we have endeavoured to provide employers with the agreements that place them in a position to know exactly what wage increases they need to provide over a pre-determined period. Labour in turn benefits because the agreements help keep their members ahead of inflationary pressures. This clear knowledge and understanding of what is going to be given and how it is going to be implemented has created stability within the industry and this is probably the biggest benefit we have brought to the industry.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in a collective leadership approach. This does not mean I can shirk my responsibility. As the head of the MEIBC, I am ultimately responsible for what happens or does not happen at the council. However, this does not mean that my voice is the only one that should be heard. I am surrounded by people who are leaders in their own right and who are more than able to make contributions. It is my responsibility to create an environment for them to grow and build their leadership competencies, so that together we can take the MEIBC forward. I am a big believer in transparency, fairness and ensuring that we reach out to all stakeholders – these are all important elements that underpin my view of collective leadership and I will, during my time, be working towards delivering on this.
What is your work background?
I have spent a large part of my working life in the labour movement. I have been part of COSATU structures and served NUMSA for 15 years, until 2009. I was also elected the first black mayor of Kokstad.
Why did you take on the opportunity to lead the MEIBC?
I first became involved with this industry way back in 1993 while I was working for NUMSA. I made my way through the ranks and, in 2001, I was appointed to the sector–co-ordinator position for this particular sector. As a result of that appointment I acquired a lot of exposure to and greater understanding of the industry. Between 2001 and 2008, I played an important part in the negotiations and agreements that were concluded in this sector.
In 2011, when negotiations once again started in the industry I was asked, along with Gavin Hartford to assist the parties in the facilitation of the negotiations. I like to think my knowledge of the industry and my track record during the previous decade played a role in these parties seeking my assistance. When this position became available, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, based on my past experience. As it is, the decision makers recognised my experience and the contribution I can make and appointed me in the role.
You are a couple of months into your role as General Secretary, how are you finding things?
My predecessors were in the main, individuals that had strong management competencies and understood the industry from that perspective. I am also the first black African to hold this role. I think these two factors alone have given people cause to stop and consider where the MEIBC might be heading in the future. I am not too troubled by this. Whenever one accepts a new leadership role and particularly when you come from outside an organisation, as I have done, people will speculate on how you will be leading. I am sure people are wondering whether I will be sympathetic towards labour or will seek to gain the ear of business. I can assure everyone, and many will have already experienced this, that I will serve the interests of all stakeholders in the industry and ensure the MEIBC contributes towards building a strong economy for our country.
What does the MEIBC do to contribute to the socio-economic growth of South Africa?
We have our own benefit administrator, which deals with our pension, provident and all other relevant funds. For us getting this off the ground has been a significant step because this helps make sure that individuals have enough money in their old age and do not place a burden on the state. Government often positions the manufacturing sector, as one of our key growth sectors.
What is your view in this regard?
This industry makes a significant contribution to our GDP. If we want to sustain this and build on it, one of the things we have to do is cater for large, medium and small employers. It is critical that we engage with the debate around the role small enterprises play in creating employment and create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurs entering our industry. On a larger scale it is critical that we play our part in making this industry attractive to foreign investors, because they too have an important role to play in helping build our economy and creating sustainable work opportunities.
What is your current assessment of the industry?
The industry has its fair share of challenges: globalisation, outsourcing, the role of labour brokers and a host of other factors make things difficult. To the industry’s credit, it is trying to deal with these challenges in a positive way. At Council level, parties have agreed to establish industry policy forums, the intention of these forums is to see what can be done to ensure our industry succeeds, that we grow the employment base in the industry and that investors are attracted to our sector. We also hope that these policy forums will be a springboard that will give us an opportunity to give input at a national policy making level when it comes to the development of policies that affect our industry.
Do you think our metal and engineering industries have what it takes to grow our market share on the global stage?
We have people with technical skills, we have people with leadership skills and we have people with a positive attitude – with this in place there is no reason we cannot be a winning nation; one that competes successfully on the global stage. In fact, since 1994 we have survived the onslaught of globalisation, we have been able to compete and in some instances outperform the best in the world. Our progressive government and the respect they have internationally along with the skills and experience we have has attracted a number of foreign investors to our shores. So, I think we do have the right mix of people and policies in place to compete globally, we just need to make sure we don’t score any own goals.
What industry challenge keeps you awake at night?
By nature the relationship between employers and trade unions is always a diverse one because of the different needs they have. What concerns me at present is the type of relationships that we have with employers. They are not talking with one voice at this stage and where they are raising issues I am not sure they are relevant and important in the context of sustaining collective bargaining. At present there are a number of attacks on centralised bargaining by different institutions and parties. It is a difficult and dangerous situation because narrow self-interest can manifest itself under these conditions. As a result of this situation we have members of the council who proclaim to support collective bargaining but their behaviour and stance outside of the council does not seem to support this. This is definitely something I want to address in a manner that will benefit everyone concerned.
What areas is the MEIBC going to focus on under your stewardship?
Concisely put our vision is to promote collective bargaining in the industry, ensure centralised collective bargaining is maintained and also enforce compliance with the agreements that have been reached in the industry – the last mentioned is of course never a popular undertaking, but a legal obligation nonetheless, and one we have to carry out. These are the areas we are going to focus on and if we get it right, I have no doubt we are going to make a meaningful contribution.
What is your parting message to our readers?
We have a clear mandate, which is to serve all with honesty and integrity. I look to all our stakeholders for support, my management committee for guidance and my staff, without whom none of this would be possible, for their continued loyalty, hard work and dedication. There is no doubt that the future is not what we thought it would be - it’s challenging, somewhat uncertain and unclear. I and my leadership team, will be working very hard to ensure that MEIBC remains the benchmark against which all other bargaining councils can measure themselves.
n this issue of CEO magazine we speak to Thulani Mthiyane, general secretary of the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) about the challenges the industry faces, the role he sees the Council playing and why he thinks our metal and engineering industries can be competitive on the global stage.
The MEIBC has a dynamic and diverse community it serves, how do you ensure you achieve a balance of serving both the business as well as the labour needs?
LEADING EDGE | MEIBC
by Valdi Pereira