The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) on Wednesday confirmed that it would be embarking on a national strike in the road freight and logistics industry on April 7, a move the Fuel Retailers Association (FRA) said would lead to a crisis.

Union spokesperson Tabudi Ramakgolo said that its members would go on strike as it could not reach an agreement with employers in the sector regarding a number of issues, including minimum wages, allowances and maternity leave, among others.

The union was demanding that the minimum wage for ultraheavy long-distance drivers should increase to R6 000 from the current R4 300, while the general workers’ salaries should increase to a minimum of R3 000 up from the current R2 500, said Ramakgolo.

Satawu noted that the employers were only willing to grant women maternity leave after 24 months of employment, adding that the workers also then had to apply to the bargaining council for only 55% of their salaries.

The union were demanding four-months paid maternity leave and job guarantee on workers’ return to work after being on maternity leave.

About 30 000 Satawu members would participate in the strike next Tuesday.

The Road Freight Employers Association (Refa) labour relations manager Magretia Brown said on Monday that Satawu was not taking the current economic climate into account in its demands for wage increases, which she called “excessive in the extreme”.

At the time, she said that Satawu wanted a 37% hike in minimum wages, and a 13% across-the-board increase, although local industry freight volumes were continuing to drop, and hundreds of heavy trucks were left idling owing to a lack of business.

Meanwhile, FRA’s newly appointed CEO Reggie Sibiya said that the strike would likely result in a repeat of the national strike in early 2005, which had been disastrous.

The impact would be most notably felt by those in the fuel retailing industry that were already experiencing fuel supply problems.

The nonavailability of transport would worsen the situation and turn into a “crisis” in terms of fuel delivery, stated Sibiya, adding that retailers would likely lose profits if their pumps ran dry for days.

Fuel supplier Engen, however, has assured retailers that fuel deliveries would continue with minimal disruptions during the strike.

It noted that its customer deliveries would not be affected by the labour issues, apart from at two depots, where it had already put in place contingency plans.

“We maintain our own bulk-fuel transport fleet for the purposes of assuring customer satisfaction, and our drivers are not members of the unions that have declared a wage dispute with the Refa,” Engen said in a statement.

Further, it said that it does, however, use third-party vehicles for trans-shipping its product from depot to depot in some areas.

“Should our deliveries in this segment of the logistics chain be affected, we will use our own vehicles and those of nonstriking members of the road freight industry as part of our contingency measures,” it added.

PUBLICATION: Engineering News
AUTHOR: Chanel Pringle
DATED: 1st April 2009