Striking unions at Transnet on Wednesday asked the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to intervene in their wage dispute.
“The CCMA must intervene to help resolve this national strike of 35 000 workers to avoid harming the economy,” the Federation of Unions of South Africa and its affiliate the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) said in a joint statement.
Utatu joined striking SA Trade and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) members on Wednesday. Both unions had rejected Transnet wage increase offer of 11%, demanding 15%.
Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said they had written to CCMA director Nerine Khan to “assist us by conciliating the negotiations between Utatu and Transnet to avoid a drawn-out strike that could cripple the economy.
“We also do not want to expose our members to a strike that has the potential to become volatile, as we have already heard of widespread reports of intimidation, violence and damage to property,” George said.
Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu said the parastatal remained open to negotiations, but cautioned that the 15% the union wanted would fuel wage inflation.
“It will drive up our operating costs as a company and force Transnet to either raise the prices it charges its customers and even consider cutting jobs.
“As a responsible publicly-owned company, we are reluctant to go down this path … it is not in the interest of our employees, customers or the country,” Dludlu said in a statement.
Eighty-five percent of the workforce was on strike and he admitted operations were affected.
Transnet employed nearly 54 000 people. Satawu represents 39% and Utatu 45% of these workers.
“The strike does have an impact. Nobody wins in a strike situation. Our focus right now is protecting our assets, property and the people and ensuring that we move key commodities required in the country,” he said.
Dludlu cautioned against strikers resorting to violence and destruction of property.
A freight train derailed, possibly due to sabotage by strikers, in Burlington near Mount Vernon in KwaZulu-Natal early on Wednesday, resulting in 10 000 litres of diesel being spilt.
“The wilful destruction of Transnet property, assets and the targeted attacks against our employees who are exercising their democratic right to work is unacceptable.
“We are concerned that the longer the strike persists, the harder it becomes … to restore calm and the greater the damage to Transnet and the broader economy.”
Transnet obtained a court interdict on Tuesday to prevent striking workers from “unlawfully interfering with business or activities of Transnet”.
The Democratic Alliance said the 11% offer was almost double the current inflation rate.
“These two unions [are] attempting to use the World Cup as leverage to achieve what are, objectively, not reasonable wage increase expectations,” the party said in a statement. — Sapa