Unions reach agreement with Transnet

Unions have reached a proposed wage deal with logistics group Transnet, which if accepted by members will end a strike that paralysed rail and port traffic, an official said on Wednesday.

“We’ve been sitting right through the night. There is a settlement agreement that we are going to take to our members. The details of that I cannot disclose at this stage,” George Strauss, president of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) told Reuters.

Utatu is the biggest union at Transnet and with the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union represents 85% of Transnet’s 54 000-strong workforce.

Chris de Vos, a General Secretary at Utatu, said both unions would approach their members on Wednesday to get a mandate to sign the deal.

“We firmly believe that this agreement will be signed [on Thursday] afternoon … Friday is the earliest we could get back at work,” he said.

The strike, now in its second week, has dented exports of metals, fruit and wine to Europe and Asia and hit imports of automotive parts and supplies of fuel. Two-thirds of Transnet’s workforce have been on strike since Monday last week.

De Vos said a separate proposed settlement had been reached to end a strike at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) which left millions of commuters stranded this week, and a deal to end that dispute could be signed later on Wednesday.

Even if striking Transnet workers return to work on Friday, it may take weeks to clear the backlog, industry officials said.

The industrial action is the latest protest in the country ahead of next month’s soccer World Cup, and Fifa said imports of some equipment for the event have been affected.

The strike has been criticised by economists and the central bank for using the World Cup to push for wage hikes way above inflation of 5,1%.

Economists estimated the impact in the hundreds of millions of rand, but said it may rise to billions if the strike drags on this week.

With nearly two-thirds of Transnet’s workers on strike, the container sector has been hardest hit so far, officials said.

Car manufacturers were struggling to get parts and to export their cars, and deliveries of fuel to depots have slowed down.

So far coal exports to power plants in Europe and Asia have not been affected, with sufficient stocks at the port.

ArcelorMittal’s South African unit declared force majeure on shipments, joining other global metal exporters including Anglo American’s South African iron ore unit and Xstrata, which said they could not supply their customers. — Reuters

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