Municipalities get ready for action

In September, a work stoppage among technical workers at South ­African Airways didn’t really get off the ground. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

In September, a work stoppage among technical workers at South ­African Airways didn’t really get off the ground. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

With major strikes in this year's negotiation period over, some employers and investors are wiping their brows. But the relief may be premature.

Just as South Africans look over their shoulder at some of the season's largest strikes, rumblings of what could be a second wave of unrest have begun .

Despite ending a three-week strike last month, the automotive sector has ground to a complete halt over a separate, four-week long strike by components manufacturers.

And now, about 250 000 workers from 300 municipalities across the country are poised to strike.

If the municipal strike goes ahead, it will be the first major involvement of the public sector in the unrest this year, which has been restricted to small-scale disruptions at South African Airways and Eskom.

In 2010, the last time mass action in the public sector was seen, the number of working days lost to strikes increased to over 20-million.

The worst is over
The years before and after this had an average of between two million and 3.5-million.

For a while, it looked like the worst was over. A three-week, 30 000-strong strike in the construction sector was settled with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in mid-September, a small-scale work stoppage among technical workers at SAA wound down around the same time, and a potentially devastating strike called by the NUM in the gold sector lasted a few days.

Strikes by the smaller unions in the sector, including Solidarity, the United Association of South Africa and the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), were avoided.

A large-scale strike in the clothing manufacturing sector, to be led by the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, was also avoided, with the majority of associations agreeing to a comparatively moderate 7% wage increase.

In a separate strike, after haemorrhaging an estimated R20-billion over a three-week period, automotive manufacturers struck a deal in the form of a three-year agreement and an 11.5% wage increase with the 30 000 workers who had downed tools in their plants.

But no sooner had the deal been signed than a Numsa-incited strike in the fuel retail sector took off.

Reaching an agreement
A three-week work stoppage ensued, with reports of violence and intimidation against nonstriking petrol attendants.

September 27 saw the end of this, with the Fuel Retailers Association agreeing to an 11.6% wage increase.

A third strike, this one involving the motor components sector, rages on.
Also at the behest of Numsa, the strike is ending its fourth week with no immediate end in sight.

Operations at all seven of the major car manufacturers have been suspended, with investors sounding alarm bells about the effect on future foreign investment in the sector.

The current account deficit (reliant on the export of vehicles to shore up its growing levels) has reached R107-billion this year, according to the latest report from the South African Revenue Service.

While the gold sector has emerged relatively unscathed by this year's wage negotiations, it remains to be seen how things will pan out in the platinum sector, following last year's Marikana tragedy and Amcu's militant rise to dominance.

Amcu protests begin
On September 27, Amcu members began to protest at the Rustenburg shafts of Anglo American Platinum's mines.

The strike is in objection to the imminent 3 300 job cuts at Amplats.

It is too early to tell whether platinum sector wage negotiations will turn into work stoppages, as wage talks have just got under way.

But both sides are bracing for a tough fight. Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani told Reuters that "nothing is sacrosanct" and that the platinum unit would be removed unless it delivered.

On October 2, the South African Municipal Workers' Union told the Mail & Guardian it had every intention of calling for its 250 000 members to strike if a last-ditch attempt for reconciliation held with the South African Local Government Authority's bargaining council failed to produce the desired results.

Strikes at SAB have also manifested for the first time this week.

The Food and Allied Workers Union is demanding a 9.5% increase for its members, while SAB is standing firm at a 7% increase offer.

South African Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus said that the bank remains "concerned" about the effects of strikes, which accounted for a decrease of half a percentage point in economic growth last year and had already shaved off a 0.3 percentage point decrease by June, reported Bloomberg.

Thalia Holmes

Thalia Holmes

Thalia is a freelance business reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Swaziland and lived in the US before returning to South Africa.She got a cum laude degree in marketing and followed it with another in English literature and psychology before further confusing things by becoming a black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) consultant.After spending five years hearing the surprised exclamation, "But you're white!", she decided to pursue her latent passion for journalism, and joined the M&G in 2012. The next year, she won the Brandhouse Journalist of the Year Award, the Brandhouse Best Online Award and was chosen as one of five finalists from Africa for the German Media Development Award. In 2014, she and a colleague won the Standard Bank Sivukile Multimedia Award. She now writes and edits for various publications, but her heart still belongs to the M&G.      Read more from Thalia Holmes

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