/ 26 August 2013

No striking SAA workers allowed at airport, says Acsa

SAA technical staffers affiliated to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union downed tools to demand a 12% wage increase.
SAA technical staffers affiliated to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union downed tools to demand a 12% wage increase. (Delwyn Verasamy)

"[We] have been advised of the strike … [and we have] assured passengers that no striking workers will be permitted to demonstrate inside its airports' premises across the country," Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) spokesperson Deborah Francis said on Monday.

SAA technical staffers affiliated to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union downed tools on Monday to demand a 12% wage increase.

Union spokesperson Vincent Masoga said the strike would carry on indefinitely as the union was not prepared to accept anything less.

Masoga said union representatives were meeting employers to discuss SAA's 6.5% offer.

"The meeting this morning [Monday] is to discuss the 12% wage increase demand that we want for the cost to company packages … and to inform SAA that we will not be backing down from this demand," Masoga said.

He said some members were picketing at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, which would likely affect operations of domestic and international flights that are contracted with SAA's technical operations.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said as far as he knew, numerous flights had taken off and landed at the airport.

Acsa said the strike had not affected any flights and it has contingency plans in place to ensure smooth operations. 

Hostile environment
Tlali declined to comment on the wage negotiations but maintained that it was a transparent process between the unions and the employer. He said SAA would make an offer that would be sustainable.

"We are not in the habit of conducting our wage talks through the media. But the unions have been told to [take] the company's current financial situation into account, as the international climate of airlines, at the moment, also affects us."

Masoga said negotiations had been taking place in a hostile environment.

"Management at SAA, in general, are highly unreasonable and that is why we will not back down." 

Construction workers weigh in
South African construction workers went on strike for higher wages as well on Monday, extending the spate of industrial action threatening to slow growth in Africa's largest economy.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said about 90 000 of its members in the construction sector had planned to down tools on Monday.

More than 50% of employers have been affected by the labour action, according to industry group the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec). Major construction firms that could be affected by strikes include Wilson Bayly Holmes Ovcon, Aveng and Group Five. 

The construction industry employed just over one million people at the end of June, according to government data.

​"I didn't know there was a strike," said Luvo Joti, a construction worker who reported for duty at a project in Johannesburg's financial district of Sandton.

Stick-toting NUM members in the union's red T-shirts later arrived at the site and forced workers apparently oblivious of the strike decision or unwilling to heed it to down their tools. Police reported some violence at the scene. 

NUM is demanding up to a 40% increase in pay and benefits for some workers, while employers are offering a 7.5% raise, according to Safcec.

South Africa's central bank has said that inflation is projected to run at 5.9% in 2013 and wage settlements well above inflation could further threaten the fragile economy.

Gold demand
In the gold sector, NUM gave gold mining companies seven days on Saturday to meet its demand for pay increases of up to 60% or face strikes.

Major firms vulnerable to walkouts included AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony.

NUM walked out of deadlocked wage talks with the companies on Wednesday, setting the scene for a gold industry shutdown that could cost over $35-million a day in lost output, based on current spot prices of the metal.

Car talk
Autoworkers with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) planned to meet on Monday to mull a revised offer from employers, which was reported in local media to be a 10% wage increase. Numsa wants 14%. The strike that started a week ago is costing the economy an estimated $60-million a day.

The labour unrest poses risks for President Jacob Zuma's ANC as it heads into elections next year facing increasing criticism that it has not done enough to help the millions of unemployed and working poor – almost 20 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule. 

The rand last week tumbled to a four-year low after the 30 000 workers in the car manufacturing sector, responsible for 6% of gross domestic product, walked out and the gold miners threatened to strike. – AFP, Reuters