SAA adds to SA’s labour woes as strike lifts off

South Africa will have to brace for yet another strike after members of South African Airways's (SAA's) technical staff, who belong to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Unions (Satawu), told Business Day they would go on strike on Monday morning.

The protest could see a possible disruption in SAA, Kulula, Mango and British Airways flights. But Business Day reported on its website on Monday that SAA's spokesperson said the airline had contingency measures in place.

Satawu spokesperson Vincent Masoga told the paper that the industrial action was over disagreements in bonus payments and wages.

"The shop stewards have assured me they are going to cripple SAA technical [division]. They are mobilising, they are organised and ready for [Monday] when they will fill the walkways and pavements of Airways Park with red to revolt against the employer," Business Day's website quoted Masoga as saying.

Masoga said Satawu's members were objecting to the unilateral agreement of a 6.5% wage increase that other unions agreed to earlier this year. Workers also wanted a one-off 0.4% payment for good performance at SAA, which the company did not agree to.

The strike in the sector comes after a couple of weeks of strike declarations in various industries.

Negotiations would get tough
Warnings that this year's wage negotiations would be difficult have come from analysts and commentators since last year's pay hikes and the Marikana massacre.

The NUM warned in July that this season's round of wage negotiations would get tough.

"Our main concern is that next year is the 20th anniversary of our democracy and we are not negotiating next year … As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, it is our wish that we should have closed the apartheid wage gap. It's a gap we must close now," Seshoka said at the time.

Meanwhile, Daan Groeneveldt, adviser to the National Employers Association of South Africa, last year cautioned against the agreement to increase at a bargaining council without assessing their effect on the market – adding it was becoming a significant risk for investors.

The Marikana massacre in August last year saw 34 miners gunned down by police during a strike at Lonmin's platinum mine. The killings sparked anger in the labour sector.

Independent labour analyst Tony Healy told the paper on Sunday the current wage dispute was the first since Marikana, and the unions needed to be seen as "confronting wage disputes with more zeal". He said in the past unions were criticised by workers for being "too soft".

Gold and construction
Last week, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said its gold and construction sector members would go on strike on Monday.

Wage negotiations with gold producers deadlocked on Wednesday.

The NUM wanted a minimum of R7 000 per month for surface workers and R8 000 for underground workers.

Gold producers represented at the Chamber of Mines said attempts were made to address some of the union's many demands.

"The employers tabled a revised offer of 6% for category four and five employees, and for rock drill operators," said Charmane Russell on behalf of gold producers.

"In addition, the offer in respect of living-out or accommodation allowances will be increased in line with inflation."

Russell said the offer would increase the basic wage for underground entry level employees to R5 300 per month and the living-out allowance to around R1 730 per month.

"In terms of this offer, the guaranteed wage for entry level employees will be R9 120 per month."

Eskom has also declared a dispute with the NUM over wages, which is being discussed at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Business Day reported on Monday that the clothing industry also threatened to down tools.

Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union's general secretary Andre Kriel told the paper employees' demand that the union agrees to the introduction of a new minimum wage – to be set at 80% of the prescribed minimum rate "without any conditions" – was at the heart of issue.

"Further, some clothing employer associations now want to renege on an agreement reached last year to narrow the metro versus non-metro areas wage gap to 71% with effect from September 1 this year … We cannot accept these conditions as it would amount to a 20% wage cut and roll back what was agreed last year. We must negotiate for better conditions for our members, not worse," he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, 30 000 workers in the motor industry across South Africa brought several plants to a standstill in pursuit of a 14% annual wage increase.

"The strike started [on Monday]," Castro Ngobese, a spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), said on Monday. "There are no negotiations, since they broke down. We are waiting for employers to submit a revised offer."

Affecting GDP
Numsa is demanding a 14% annual wage increase alongside improved medical benefits and shift flexibility, according to Numsa national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo.

The automobile industry accounts for almost 7% of the South Africa's gross domestic product, according to the department of trade and industry.

The affected car makers include Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler AG, Ford and General Motors. The strike may cost the industry as much as R700-million a day by reducing vehicle output by 3 000 vehicles, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa said on August 16.

General Motors's South African unit has two plants in Port Elizabeth. It makes Chevrolet cars and Isuzu trucks in Africa's biggest economy.

Dudu Mwelase, a spokesperson for Nissan's South African unit, said in a phone interview that daily output of about 245 units was disrupted due to the strike.  – Additional reporting by Sapa, Bloomberg

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

October 7 strike: ‘Lukewarm’ action amid Covid-19 crisis?

After months of little action, the planned nationwide stayaway may not be an impressive show of force by the trade union movement

SAA needs R2.2bn to pay for voluntary severance packages

More than 3 000 employees out of 5 000 have accepted the packages. The state-owned airline, which went into business rescue, is likely to retain 1 000 workers

The Portfolio: Levy Pooe

Artist Levy Pooe conceptualises his work as ‘a social diary of being black in the city’

Eskom must lead the energy shift

Any plans to change from coal-fired power to renewable and affordable electricity must include turning the power utility into a true public entity

Unions reject SAA severance pay

Labour representatives argue that the state airline just ‘expects 78% of workers to accept one week’s pay’ for each year worked

SAA 2.0 hopes to start lean and grow from next year

Draft agreement document spells out that R1.5-billion will be needed to fund severance packages for 2 400 of the airline’s employees

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

North West premier goes off the rails

Supra Mahumapelo ally Job Mokgoro’s defiance of party orders exposes further rifts in the ANC

Construction sites are a ‘death trap’

Four children died at Pretoria sites in just two weeks, but companies deny they’re to blame

Why the Big Fish escape the justice net

The small fish get caught. Jails are used to control the poor and disorderly and deflect attention from the crimes of the rich and powerful.

Koko claims bias before Zondo commission

In a lawyer’s letter, the former Eskom chief executive says the commission is not being fair to him

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…