​IEC fills up its fleet to avoid petrol strike disruptions to elections

Independent Electoral Commission vehicles were ordered to urgently fill up over the weekend for the transport of thousands of ballots and equipment to municipal offices across the country. This is how it plans to avoid disruptions to the preparations for Wednesday’s local government vote due to the ongoing petrol strike.

The order was issued by the heads of the logistics department at the IEC, who were concerned that the strike could lead to a delay in voting stations opening, or ballot papers running out.

“It’s something we are keeping our eye on. We had some advance warning (about the strike) and ensured all vehicles needed are filled up and in prime condition. That continued over the weekend. Most materials are in the municipal offices or en route, so there will only be short distances to travel on Wednesday,” said IEC spokesperson Marco Granelli.

About 15 000 workers affiliated to the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu) have downed tools in support of a 9% wage hike demand. The National Petroleum Employers’ Association has offered the workers a 6.5% increase. The union issued a 48 hour strike notice this week after talks broke down.

“Their insistence on a multi-year agreement is also an issue. We want the employers to agree on a one-year agreement, because of the instability of the economy. The industry want us to agree on a multi-year arrangement which is not feasible in the current economic situation,” said Ceppwawu spokesperson Clement Chitja.

The impact of the strike depends on the outcome of two crucial meetings, which could lead to solidarity mass action. The national leadership of Cosatu, the country’s biggest trade union federation, are due to meet in Johannesburg while metalworkers union Numsa, the biggest union in the country, will continue negotiations with the automotive sector bosses.

“Talks have deadlocked and there will be an intervention this week. Senior Numsa leaders are negotiating with the Retail Motor Industry bargaining forum. If employers drag out the (Ceppwawu) strike and delay negotiations with Numsa, we might be forced to embark on solidarity action,” said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

Both worker movements have already pledged their support for the Ceppwawu strike, which has been downplayed by the SA Petroleum Industry Association. In a statement, Cosatu expressed its full support for strike action and called on its affiliates to do the same. “We are calling on all our affiliates to support Ceppwawu in their struggles. The 12th National Congress made it very clear that all our affiliates are expected to practice the principle of solidarity.”

The South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) represents the country’s biggest fuel suppliers and estimated that only 20% of the industry would be affected, while the heads of Shell and Caltex said its contingency plans would guarantee the continued production and delivery of fuel.

However, fuel stations in Durban and Pretoria were already running dry on Friday, while the National Petroleum Employers’ Association pleaded with motorists not to panic, “to avoid a run on the pumps”.

Ceppwawu said its wage strike is indefinite and while it remained willing to negotiate a settlement, pickets were planned outside the NPEA on Monday. Chitja did not respond to questions about whether the union is willing to call off the strike to ensure the elections are not delayed.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.


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