/ 28 September 2012

Transport workers set to intensify strike

Truck drivers have hit the streets in Johannesburg to protest against wages as low as R3 000 a month.
Truck drivers have hit the streets in Johannesburg to protest against wages as low as R3 000 a month.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the strike was marred by incidents of violence and intimidation. Two trucks were set alight in Cape Town and three people hospitalised on the East Rand in Johannesburg. By Thursday no further wage negotiations were in the pipeline. Vincent Masoga, spokesperson for the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), said unions were concentrating on intensifying the strike.

The four striking unions are Satawu, the Allied Transport and Allied Workers' Union, the Professional Transport and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa and the Motor Transport Workers' Union. Together they represent 40 000 truck drivers, according to Masoga.

Following a deadlock in negotiations last weekend, unions declared a nationwide strike of road-freight truck drivers. Attempts to reach a deal failed on Tuesday night during negotiations at the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. Unions are demanding a 12% wage increase but employers, represented by the Road Freight Association, put their final offer at increases of 8% this year and 7.5% in 2013.

The strike crucially affects the movement and supply of goods. But not all freight drivers are on strike. Masoga said that only companies that  outsourced their deliveries to independent truck owners were affected and not those with their own internal distribution networks. Fuel, coal and electronic goods at the harbours were supplies Masoga considered most endangered.

Foreseeable future
On Wednesday key business sectors were exuding a cool confidence. Avhapfani Tshifularo, executive director of the South African Petroleum Industry Association, on Tuesday said much of its fuel supply was handled by independent owner-operators but that petrol companies had contingency measures in place to prevent fuel supplies from running out.  

As far as power supply goes, Eskom has a coal stockpile that would allow 40 days of normal activity without fresh deliveries, said the power utility's spokesperson, Tony Stott.

 And only 30% of Eskom's coal was delivered by road, with the rest sent directly from the mines to power plants on conveyor belts.

In the retail sector, Shoprite Checkers said that service levels could be maintained into the "foreseeable future" because of its storage and distribution facilities.

It seems the worst affected were the freight logistic companies themselves. For David Kruyer, chief executive of transport and logistics company Concargo, a week-long strike would mean a 10% to 15% decrease in the company's revenue. Kruyer said 40 of the firm's trucks were stranded in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, unable to deliver their goods.

Neren Rau, chief executive of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that economic effects would be more dramatic as the strike entered its second week. Once the short-term contingency measures of strategic industries – such as petroleum wore away, economic cracks would emerge more clearly. Business and consumer panic would augur irrational behaviour and economic confusion. Rau was concerned about the impact of back-to-back strikes on investor confidence in the already struggling economy.