You ain't seen nothin' yet, warn striking unions

There was no end in sight to a countrywide strike by about 200 000 workers in key sectors in the South African economy late on Monday.

Instead, unions concerned vowed to step up their action, with mass marches planned in Johannesburg and Durban to highlight their demands.

The first strike, by more than 120 000 engineering workers demanding pay rises ranging from 10% to 13%, and a ban on labour brokers, began last week. About 70 000 fuel and other workers joined them on Monday, pushing for a minimum salary of R6 000 per month and a 40-hour work week.

The strike in the engineering industry is being led by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Metal and Electrical Workers’ Union (Mewusa), and the South Africa Equity Workers’ Association (Saewa).

Unions in other industries joining the march are the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood, and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu), the General Industries Workers’ Union of SA (Giwusa) and the South African Chemical Workers’ Union (Sacwu).

Surplus shares
Numsa’s KwaZulu-Natal regional secretary, Mbuso Ngubane said they were “sick and tired ... we want higher wages and also a share of companies’ surplus value”.

“I am not optimistic about the wage negotiations.
The employers said they will speak with their mandating structures and come back to us on Wednesday.”

He said unless employers “surprised us” they would continue striking.

In Johannesburg workers intended marching to the Chamber of Mines in the city centre on Tuesday.

Metro police said traffic would be diverted in the CBD. The march was expected to start at the Workers’ Library in Newtown at 11am and proceed down Miriam Makeba, Market, Simmonds and Marshall and Holland streets. Workers in Durban intended meeting at 9am at Warwick junction to march to the City Hall.

The strike could see supplies of medicine and petrol interrupted.

Fuel to the fire
Earlier, Fuel Retailers’ Association chief executive Reggie Sibiya said it feared petrol stations could run dry.

“In terms of determining when it will run dry depends on how organised the strike is,” he said.

“But we are not going to see it today as most stations have stock.”

Sibiya urged motorists to be prepared and not panic.

An Engen Refinery spokesperson said there were currently no fuel shortages.

“At the moment there are no shortages,” Tania Landsberg said.

Good to go
“We are doing everything we can to keep our sites [stocked] and have contingency plans in place across the country.”

Shell and BP South Africa Petroleum Refinery (Sapref) spokesperson Margaret Rowe was unable to comment on possible fuel shortages, but said the plant had no intention of shutting down.

“Although Ceppwawu has called for a national strike, Sapref does not anticipate that they will need to shut down.

“Sapref intends to continue operating for as long as it is safe to do so,” she said.

Sapref, a joint venture between Shell and BP, is the largest crude oil refinery in Southern Africa and provides for 35% of the country’s refining capacity.

Breaking the impasse
Meanwhile, the Steel and Engineering Industries’ Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) hoped for a speedy resolution to the strike.

“The bilateral engagements between the two largest players in the industry were reasonably positive in nature and appear to be moving closer to one another in an attempt to reach a possible solution to the current wage negotiation impasse,” the federation’s executive director David Carson said.

Both the employer and workers adopted an “encouraging approach” to talks over the weekend.

“I believe that a high level commitment to the cessation of the violence and the conclusion of a mutually acceptable agreement was evident, and feel cautiously optimistic that we may begin to move into a position where we could bring this process to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The Democratic Alliance has called on President Jacob Zuma to ensure his administration managed the current strike season. Last week, violence during the industrial action resulted in one death and six injuries.—Sapa

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