Zuma convenes summit in bid to end strikes
A HIGH-LEVEL economic summit convened by South African president Jacob Zuma to tackle the strikes seizing the country was given a boost yesterday when transport workers ended their industrial action.
Repairing South Africa’s credibility with foreign investors and restoring confidence in the country’s labour relations systems are said to be key aims of the talks between government, business, labour and community groups in Pretoria yesterday.
On Thursday Mr Zuma warned that serious damage was being done to South Africa’s economy by the mine and transport strikes. He said the summit was an attempt to prevent the country reaching “crisis point”.
The National Treasury estimates that strikes in the mining sector have resulted in gold and platinum production losses of R4.6 billion (€412 million), while the truck drivers’ strike has disrupted manufacturing, services and logistics activities.
Central Bank governor Gill Marcus said earlier this week the domestic economic outlook was “deteriorating rapidly” due to the unrest, and job losses were the likely outcome. International investor confidence has also been damaged, with the rand falling to a 3½-year low last Monday.
A wage deal agreed by 28,000 truck drivers aligned to the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union has ended a three-week strike that left one man dead and six seriously injured.
It will be staggered over three years, and allows for a 10 per cent increase in the first year, 8 per cent in the second, and 9 per cent in the third.
Earlier this week, three other transport unions, jointly representing 15,000 workers, also agreed a wage deal. The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) said it was elated the dispute had been resolved.
“While we are mindful of the cost to the economy and the lives lost in this strike, we are convinced that the sector will now rebuild itself to the advantage of the greater South African economy,” said Fedusa general secretary Dennis George.
The breakthrough was also welcomed by the government, but the feel-good factor may be short-lived if a recently announced strike by municipal workers union, Samwu, which has 190,000 members, goes ahead next week. The municipal workers are seeking “market-related salaries for low- and middle-income workers,” said Samwu.
They join the 75,000 miners from the country’s gold, platinum and coal mines who downed tools in search of higher wages after Lonmin agreed to a 22 per cent wage hike with non-unionised workers in the north west province last month.
Before the summit, Mr Zuma urged that industrial disputes be resolved by all sides without delay.
Mining bosses have pleaded poverty in most cases saying they cannot afford the double-digit pay increases sought, but Mr Zuma appeared unimpressed. “I’m not happy at all with the entry level salaries the mineworkers are getting. I think it needs to be addressed,” he said before adding the industry “must respect its workers”.