A look at the ‘strike season’

2010-09-06 12:07

About 1.3 million South African public sector workers, on strike for nearly a month, may soon return to work but continue talks on whether to accept an increased government wage offer.

The following is look at some of the labour actions in the annual mid-year period of labour unrest known as “strike season”, which was highlighted this year by threats to halt crucial public services during South Africa’s June-to-July hosting of the 2010 World Cup:

» One of the most costly strikes was a three-week rail and port walkout at the state logistics group Transnet in May that cost the economy about $1 billion (about R7.2 billion) in lost production and sales. Unions said they won an 11% pay increase.

» The biggest strike in terms of man-days lost has been the strike by about 1.3 million state workers that started on August 18 and has shut schools, caused chaos at hospitals and led to bodies piling up at morgues.

The strike has indirectly cost the economy about $150 million a day, according to the estimates of one economist.

Government offered a 7.5% wage increase and R800 a month for housing. Unions want 8.6% and R1 000.

The eventual hit to the budget could be just as damaging. Government has said its offer would cost about R6.5 billion rand more than budgeted. That estimate might be a bit low and the actual figure could be more than double that.

» About 70 000 workers at petrol stations, garages and auto dealerships are still on strike after walking off the job last Wednesday, seeking 20% wage increases.

» South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said that more than 8 000 workers seeking 15% pay increases at Northam Platinum began a work stoppage today. Workers at one of the country’s smaller platinum mines rejected the company’s 8% wage offer.

» Workers who comprise the bulk of the workforce at State power utility Eskom in June won a 9% wage increase and a R1 500 housing allowance after threatening a strike that could have cut electricity during the World Cup.

» About 30 000 autoworkers, seeking a 15% wage hike, went on strike in August, dealing a blow to production in the Africa’s biggest car making state.

They accepted a three-year deal, with workers receiving a 10% increase this year, and 9% a year in the next two years.

» Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), a Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton joint venture, last week reached a wage deal to end a week-long strike. RBM says it agreed to an 8% pay rise with the NUM for 2010 and a 7% increase each for 2011 and 2012.

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