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."

Guarantees
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

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