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Last-ditch talks between the parties

By unknown | Aug 07, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Simon Nare

Simon Nare

Indications are that the strike by chemical workers will end soon.

The unions and employers met again last night and both parties were hopeful that the strike, which almost crippled the country due to fuel shortages, would be over by today.

Even the government has come out to say a settlement was "imminent" after several meetings at the weekend.

The week-long industrial action had left many filling stations running dry at the weekend. Gauteng was the worst hit.

It started last Monday after wage talks between the unions and employers deadlocked.

The unions lowered their demand to 9,5 percent and the employers at the weekend made a final offer of 8,5 percent.

The spokesman for the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood, and Allied Workers Union, Keith Jacobs, said earlier yesterday they were going into last night's talks with a new mandate from members.

"We are not going to negotiate the percentage, we will table the entire package," Jacobs said.

He said the package included maternity leave and a 40-hour working week for continuous workers. The question of payment for public holidays for continuous workers would also be discussed.

"We are very confident that the parties can sign an agreement tonight," he said.

Alpheus Ngubo, spokesman for the National Petroleum Employers Association, was equally optimistic an agreement could be reached overnight.

He would not reveal the final offer, saying this was per agreement with the unions.

Two other unions, Solidarity and the South African Chemicals Workers Union, have already accepted the employers' offer of an 8 percent wage increase.

Jacobs said it would take longer for the refineries that shut down to return to normal.

BP announced at the weekend that it had shut down its refinery in Durban because of the strike.

Spokesman Zipporah Mothoa said there was insufficient staff to maintain safe operations there.

Engen spokesman Tania Landsberg said their refinery operations had not been affected.

"The problem for us is at the depots from where we have to get the product to the customers. We did very well at the weekend to get fuel to filling stations using contractors in most parts of the country," she said.

Landsberg said the company would thoroughly investigate allegations that some cars were filled with water at a Mamelodi West, Pretoria, garage.

"Our deliveries are almost back on schedule but Gauteng remains a problem," she said.

As the strike entered its fifth day yesterday, motorists were warned not to stock up petrol as this was illegal.

Other filling stations were apparently limiting petrol for R200 per vehicle.

Mothoa said even though the company had shut down the Durban refinery there was sufficient stocks to service the national market for the next two weeks.


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