Deal reached with striking steel workers

2011-07-15 08:59

South African steel and engineering firms reached a wage deal with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) to end a two-week-long strike, a union official said today, while a fuel sector strike showed no signs of ending.

Tens of thousands of steel workers downed tools nearly two weeks ago demanding a 13% wage rise – almost three times the inflation rate and nearly double the employers’ offer of 7%.

The companies and Numsa met late yesterday to discuss aproposal meant to bring them closer.

“There was an agreement reached last night,” Lucio Trentini, the operations director at the SEIFSA industry body, said.

“The most important thing is that the agreement ends the two-week long strike in the industry.”

Workers are expected to start returning to work from Monday, and details of the settlement will be released next week, he added. Production and financial losses from the strike are expected to be substantial.

Strikes spread this week as several sectors joined industrial action in the petrol industry that has raised concerns about fuel supplies in Africa’s biggest economy.

Tens of thousands of fuel workers began walking off the job on Monday, delaying deliveries and sparking panic buying at service stations in the economic hub of Gauteng province, which includes Joburg.

Refineries are still operating and petrol is being delivered to most filling stations but a prolonged and widening strike could hurt the transport sector and impact economic growth.

Economists said the cost of the strike could run into the billions of rand should it continue into next week.

The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union union said talks with employers were scheduled for Monday.

The latest to join the wave of strikes were 2 000 workers from Pioneer Food Group’s Sasko Grain unit, the Food and Allied Workers Union said today.

Unions and employers are locked in their mid-year bargaining session known as “strike season”, with many labour groups seeking wage increases that  
far exceed inflation.

Central bank and Treasury officials have said high wage increases threaten the outlook for inflation, interest rates and the long-term prospects for the economy.

Possible strikes also loom in South Africa’s platinum, coal and gold industries, threatening global supplies of the key
commodities at a time when prices are red hot. 

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