Three smaller truck unions call off strike
Pressure on biggest transport union to follow
About 15,000 striking truckers have agreed to return to work on Wednesday, easing pressure on the economy after two weeks of labour unrest in the transport sector which has hit supplies of fuel, cash and consumer goods.
“The three unions advised that they came to this decision in light of the fact that employers have now offered double digits for the year,” the Road Freight Employers’ Association said in a statement.
The Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), the Professional Transport Workers’ Union and the Motor Transport Workers’ Union — agreed to suspend their strike activities from 4pm on Tuesday.
“They believe that there is now sufficient common ground to suspend strike action at this stage,” the Association said.
The decision by the three small unions puts pressure on the biggest labour group, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), which represents about 28,000 workers, to reach a deal and suspend its calls to widen the strike to ports and rails.
It also eased investors’ concerns about widening strikes that could slow growth. The rand, which fell to 3-1/2 year lows against the dollar on Monday on worsening investor sentiment about labour strife, firmed immediately after the news truckers would return to work, hitting a session high of 8,735.
“Three of the unions have agreed to suspend strike action,” a spokeswoman for the employers association said. It was still in talks with all groups to hammer out a final deal.
Large parts of the mining sector, responsible for about 6% of gross domestic product, have been brought to a standstill in the last two months by wildcat strikes by more than 75,000 miners — about 15% of its workforce.
Almost 50 people have been killed in the current labour strife — 34 of them by shot dead by police on Aug. 16 in the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The government has been criticised for letting the strikes spread. Moody’s ratings agency downgraded South African government bonds a notch last month, saying ineffectual governance was posing long term economic risk.
Thousands of striking truck drivers have taken to the streets in often violent protests, demanding annual wage increases of 12% for two years — more than double the inflation rate.
Employers have offered a total 18% pay rise over that period. It held wage talks with Satawu on Tuesday.
“We are willing to compromise on our demands, but only as long as the employers do the same,” said Vincent Masoga, spokesman for Satawu. He was not immediately able to comment on the deal struck by the smaller unions.
An employers body said last week the freight industry was losing around 1,2 billion rand ($135 million) in turnover each week due to the strike.
Affected companies include logistics groups Imperial Holding, Super Group, Grindrod, Barloworld and Bidvest.
If the protests were to expand to rail and ports, they would hit exports of coal and other minerals.
Local media reports suggested the truckers’ strike was also having adverse effects on Zimbabwe, which receives a steady supply of goods over road from its larger neighbour.