The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) denied industry assertions on Friday it had reached a wage deal with steel and engineering firms and said it had not called off its strike.
Tens of thousands of steel workers downed tools nearly two weeks ago demanding a 13% wage rise, almost three times the inflation rate and nearly double the employers’ offer of 7%.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) said earlier an agreement had been reached on Thursday night and that it had brought the strike to an end.
“Numsa refutes reports that we have called off the strike and we have reached a settlement agreement with Seifsa,” Numsa said in a statement.
“We want to state clearly that no offer has been accepted or signed by the leadership of the union … As the union, we are currently busy engaging our members pertaining to the latest and revised offer,” it said.
Production and financial losses from the strike are expected to be substantial. Seifsa said earlier that workers would start returning to work from Monday.
Strikes spread this week as several sectors joined industrial action in the petrol industry that has raised concerns about fuel supplies in Africa’s biggest economy. If protracted economists have said it could cost billions of rand.
Tens of thousands of fuel workers began walking off the job on Monday, delaying deliveries and sparking panic buying at service stations in the economic hub of Gauteng province.
The Fuel Retailers’ Association told the South African Press Association that about 200 service stations in Gauteng alone had run dry by Friday morning and even though some stations were being refilled overnight, townships were being neglected.
Refineries are still operating and petrol is being delivered to most pump stations but a prolonged and widening strike could hurt the transport sector and impact economic growth.
Talks set for Monday
Economists said the cost of the fuel strike could run into the billions of rand should it continue into next week.
The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union said talks with employers were scheduled for Monday and but the industry said it was ready for to talk on Saturday and accused the union of delaying matters.
“We would like to encourage negotiators to facilitate a speedy resolution to the mutual benefit of all parties concerned,” employers and the energy ministry said in a joint statement, urging South Africans to refrain from panic buying which was aggravating the situation.
The latest to join the wave of strikes were 2 000 workers from Pioneer Food Group’s Sasko Grain unit, the Food and Allied Workers Union said on Friday.
Sasko division executive director Tertius Carstens said talks with the union were ongoing. The workers seek a 9% increase in wages, while the firm is offering 7.5%.
“The operating activities of some [production] sites have been affected to some degree,” Carstens said, but added that only around 500 workers were on strike.
The unit produces a broad ranged of grain-based foods such as flour, maize meal, rice and beans.
Unions and employers are locked in their mid-year bargaining session known as “strike season”, with many labour groups seeking wage increases that far exceed inflation.
Central bank and Treasury officials have said high wage increases threaten the outlook for inflation, interest rates and the long-term prospects for the economy.
Possible strikes also loom in South Africa’s platinum, coal and gold industries, threatening global supplies of the key commodities at a time when prices are red hot. — Reuters