Jobs on the line as strike action spreads
Government says it will review labour market flexibility if necessary
Car makers will lose about R130-million a day in sales while an estimated 21 000 workers will forfeit R4.2-million a day in wages during the what has been called a "full-blown" strike by unions.
The strike by over 40 000 workers in the chemical industry enters its second week tomorrow with little hope that the dispute will be settled before Wednesday.
The Chemical Workers' Industrial Union and the National Petroleum Employers Association will meet on Tuesday to discuss the dispute.
Fuel sector spokesman Chris Clucas said that in view of severe intimidation and violence, employers did not feel inclined to improve their wage offer.
New Labour Minister Shepherd Mdladlana on Friday condemned unprocedural and violent dispute actions and said he was open to debate and if necessary amendments to the law on labour flexibility.
He said if legislation had to be amended following talks on labour market flexibility, "we will not run away from it". He added that government was listening to the concerns of a wide range of players.
Labour flexibility has become a political hot potato as economic growth slows and it becomes clearer that SA has no hope of meeting job creation targets as set out in government's Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme.
In his first three weeks in office, Mdladlana has witnessed more strike action than he would have liked.
Motor industry employees on Friday joined what has at times been violent industrial action involving unions in the chemical industry. There is also dissatisfaction among rail workers and employees at Iscor, which plans to retrench 6 000 workers in the next three years.
The most significant aspect of the motor strike is its impact on export orders, especially the deal recently negotiated by VW for the production of 68 000 Golfs for the UK over 18 months. The contract has a tight delivery schedule.
The VW deal is worth R5-billion and when at full tilt, will require the production of a new car every six minutes.
A legal strike was initiated by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which declared a dispute with the Automobile Manufacturers Employers Association (Ameo). This was subsequently referred to the Commission for Consolidation and Arbitration (CCMA), but was not resolved.
Numsa has proposed a three-year agreement based on the inflation rate plus 2% in 1999 and 2000. Ameo, having increased its initial offer from 6.5% to 8% for hourly paid production workers and to 7.5% for artisans, insisted that wages be linked to the CPI.
Andrew Levy of industrial relations group Andrew Levy & Associates says it is too early to establish how many days have been lost to the strike in the past weeks, but at least 40 000 chemical workers have been out for a week, and 21 000 motor workers began their strike on Friday - resulting in a loss of at least 220 000 days in the week.
In the first six months of this year, just 310 000 mandays were lost to strikes.
National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) head Christoph Köpke says the biggest priority facing SA is the total lack of jobs being created. He says the job summit is doomed to failure without a common vision between labour, business and government.
"A total focus on exports could compensate for the lack of domestic demand and assist in much-needed economic growth. Every step taken to jeopardise export initiatives will jeopardise not only new-job creation, but threaten existing jobs as well.
"I am deeply concerned that the current dispute (in the motor industry) will negatively affect employment in the longer term and that this will be to the detriment of all South Africans, especially the unemployed," says Köpke.
Brian Smith, human resource director at VW and Ameo chairman, says the production of Golfs is now in the build-up stage and only one shift is being worked. A second shift will begin at the end of this month and a third shift in September.
A two-week stoppage would be critical, but not serious at this stage. "The message it is sending overseas, however, is bad," Smith says.
The chemical industry has also been battered by strike action which has affected deliveries of petrol and could, in time, have an impact on the mining sector.
Levy adds that with the current poor economic conditions, the disputing parties will probably not allow strike action to last too long. - Business Times Staff Top of page