What we need at the negotiation table – Meet SEIFSA CEO, Lucio Trentini

Written by Editor


By Koketso Mamabolo


As things stand, what employers’ associations need is one voice representing them all, believes Lucio Trentini, the CEO of SEIFSA. “As a young man thrown into the field of industrial relations, one of the very first tasks that I was exposed to was to try to understand the complexities of the annual round of industry wage negotiations,” says Trentini, who was the Operations Director before being appointed CEO in August 2021.

While Lucio’s role involves being the voice of employers in the metals and engineering sector, his 32 years as an employee at SEIFSA has allowed him a perspective that can voice the opinions of employers across sectors. Here Lucio tells us about how businesses should be engaging with trade unions, how to navigate public-private partnerships and how the metals and engineering sector can leverage the African Continental Free Trade Area.



How do we improve relations between businesses and trade unions? 

The lessons learnt in dealing with trade unions in the late 1990s and 2000s could well be applied to the recent situation where unions have again adopted a militant, confrontational approach. In the late 1990s, employers and the trade unions decided that a less confrontational, collaborative, joint problem-solving approach, focusing on the state of the industry and what was needed to protect and grow the industry, was in everyone’s best interest.

As a consequence, negotiation processes into the 2000s became more focused by concentrating on the critical issues to achieve a settlement. These interventions markedly improved industrial relations in the industry. As a result, a period of industrial calm followed during the period 1993 to 2006, during which several multi-year agreements were concluded.

I believe that a relationship of mutual trust and respect between employers and unions is essential.  It is also important that member companies practise good and proper communication with their employees at all times.  The fact that we could sit down with the union body and discuss matters, sometimes with great fervour, but respecting our different points of view, and ultimately negotiating and finding solutions to very real and dynamic concerns, helped enormously through a very demanding process. It is essential for South Africa Inc. to restore this platform.        


What role can the private sector play in the development of infrastructure? How do we navigate public-private partnerships?

The involvement of the private sector in infrastructure development has never been more important now more than ever if South Africa is going to turn its fortunes. 

Private Public Partnerships (PPP) will allow the state to tap into the resources, financial and otherwise, that are available in the private sector for the provision of infrastructure.  


What are your thoughts on the African Continental Free Trade Area? What impact could it have on the local and global industries?

The biggest benefit of this agreement is to boost manufacturing output by creating demand for goods and services. The AfCFTA represents a major opportunity for countries to boost economic growth, increase Africa’s exports and mostly in manufacturing. If AfCFTA were to succeed, there is no doubt that these growth opportunities would contribute towards reducing poverty levels across the continent and in the process stimulate much needed job opportunities. 

It is of critical importance that the M&E sector leverage off the AfCFTA through the adoption of an intensive, market-intelligence approach to identify opportunities across the continent.  The fact that Africa is still lagging behind in terms of infrastructural development creates room for the trade agreement to open more doors for African-made products.  

Africa has a wealth of mineral deposits and a vast fertile geography for agricultural production, therefore a key success of AfCFTA would be the development of Africa’s industrial capacity to meet a new growing demand for its goods and services. The industrial capacity created would also allow the continent to beneficiate much of its mineral endowment locking in greater value locally. 

The trade agreement offers tremendous economic growth opportunities and investments in strategic infrastructure projects that could further unlock opportunities which could stimulate and support the development of industrial projects linked to priority value chains vital to the reindustrialisation of the M&E sector. 


What makes the M&E sector a strategic sector for South Africa? And what are the current plans to re-industrialise the sector?

Working on the traditional employment multiplier of 1.6 people for most industrial sectors, the M&E sector indirectly employs a further 657 896 employees. Considering South Africa’s dependency ratio of 6 to 10 people per job, the importance of the sector from a socio-economic point of view speaks for itself. For a country like South Africa with a rich and expansive mineral resources endowment, the M&E sector also offers a very important and strategic role for domestic value addition through beneficiation.

The Steel Master Plan (SMP) is an important industrial plan that has been prepared by the government in consultation with industry and labour. The plan identifies initiatives that will drive the growth of the sector and a number of key stability measures to support the sector. 

The plan charts a progressive way forward, enjoys the support of all stakeholders, but as has so often been the case, implementation of bold and grand ideas, will ultimately determine the success or failure of the SMP. 


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