Mother of strikes to hit SA
Apr 30 2010 15:42
Johannesburg - South Africa's transport system is expected to be brought to a standstill from May 10 as 50 000 Transnet workers plan to strike over a wage dispute.
"This will be the biggest strike in the history of South Africa," said Chris de Vos, general secretary of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) at a press conference in Johannesburg on Friday.
"It will make all other strikes look like kindergarten parties." Utatu will join the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) in the national strike against parastatal Transnet. It is expected to affect all freight rail, shipping and harbours, and fuel and coal line services.
While Metrorail employees are not expected to join the strike yet, they are in a similar wage dispute through the same unions, and it is possible that they could still join. SA Airways will not participate.
"It will affect everything," said Satawu general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu. "Freight, pipelines, ships - the delivery of goods incoming and outgoing from our ports and the coal lines coming in and out."
He said if the strike was prolonged, it might lead to a "serious" fuel problem in the country.
The unions said they are united in their cause of getting a 15% wage hike for their members across the board. Transnet is offering 8% increases.
Satawu's Jane Barret said the strike would be indefinite until an agreement had been reached, but said it was improbable that it would last until the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
"It is unlikely that we won't get a settlement in five weeks," she said.
Mahlangu said the strike could still be called off, should Transnet come up with a "substantial" settlement.
"We would like to apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused," he said. "Strike action is not a tactic we like to use, but we use it as a last resort. Our members are eager to strike. They would go on strike today if they were allowed."
Mahlangu said the Transnet employees felt cheated and their morale was the lowest it had been in 40 years.
Other than the wage issue, among other demands the unions also wanted contract workers employed on a permanent basis and a guarantee that no retrenchments would be made for the next year.
Of Transnet workers, 87% are unionised.