Massive strike set to derail core economic activities

Unions are calling it the biggest rail strike in South African history.

Up to 50 000 Transnet employees are preparing to down tools from Monday over wages and unsatisfactory employment conditions.

The national strike—which, the unions say, could even bring Transnet’s head office to a halt—will affect the movement and delivery of everything from car parts to petroleum.

It will be led by a Cosatu affiliate, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), and a Fedusa affiliate, the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu).

The unions are demanding an across-the-board increase of 15%. Transnet management’s offer is currently stuck on 8%.

Workers are also demanding a no-retrenchments guarantee from Transnet and that contract workers be made permanent. The two unions jointly represent 85% of the 50 000 Transnet workers who are planning to strike.

On Thursday Satawu’s chief negotiator and policy research officer, Jane Barrett, said: ‘There are no talks at the moment. There have been some informal discussions but there is no better offer on the table. The strike is definitely happening on Monday and it will go on for as long as it takes to settle.”

Barrett said that the strike could be taken up by office employees who do not traditionally go out on strike, including staff in ‘finance, admin and HR” who are set to join the ‘crane drivers, train drivers and port pilots”.

There has already been an outcry about the likely effects of the strike on the motor manufacturing and associated industries by the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (Naamsa). Naamsa said the action will result in the closure of all assembly plants within a matter of days.

Satawu figures for 2008-09, showing daily volumes and goods that rely on Transnet, include:

  • 192 000 tons of coal for export by rail to port;

  • 123 000 tons of iron ore for export by rail to port;

  • 191 780 tons of general cargo being moved by rail within the country and to and from ports;

  • 9 315 containers (imports and exports) moving through the ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth, Nqura and Cape Town; and

  • 4.8-million litres of petroleum transported by pipeline from the coast to Gauteng daily.

The strike is set to disrupt Transnet Freight Rail, Transnet Rail Engineering, Transnet Port Terminals, Transnet Port Authority, Transnet Pipelines, Transnet Capital Projects and the company’s head office.

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