Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shipping Strike Damages South Africa's Industry (and Credibility)

Union Holds out as Exporters Turn to Air Freight
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH AFRICA – The strike at logistics giant Transnet, the parastatal charged with managing the country’s port and rail freight operations, has caused immense damage particularly to agricultural sector workers according to industry observers.

Whilst members of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) have reached a wage settlement giving them an increase of around 11% their colleagues from the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) are reportedly holding out for 15% and encouraging others to join their protest. There are reports that some fruit exporters are paying air freight rates, around five times the cost of ocean freight, to fulfil orders, whilst large quantities of produce are left to rot in the backlog of cargo awaiting transfer.

According to Transnet, 65% of the workforce has now returned to their duties with senior teams assisting in clearing outstanding orders. The strike has produced much ill feeling and the company is offering 100,000 Rand for information leading to the conviction of saboteurs who they say damaged freight locomotives. 30 protestors have reportedly been detained during the strike with one man held for carrying a petrol bomb.

The strike was initially supported by the International Transport Workers Federation who called for international support. In a revised statement today to the Handy Shipping Guide David Cockfroft, ITF General Secretary said: "At the moment we're considering what kind of lawful international solidarity action will be needed if there's not a speedy resolution to this dispute. We also actively support the negotiations which are under way right now".

The strike, which began on the 10th May, is particularly damaging in view of the forthcoming football World Cup although Transnet insist the industrial action has not caused delays to tournament supplies or aviation fuel. Satawu executives insist the large increase is essential to redress a growing imbalance in salary between administration staff and blue collar workers.