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2013-10-06 14:00

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Motor vehicle components sector strike is now approaching the crucial month-long threshold

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) strike has almost wiped out car exports, putting at risk one of the country’s most successful export industries.

South Africa’s vehicle manufacturers this week revealed the extent of the damage caused by Numsa’s double strike in the sector.

On Friday, talks to end the strike in the components sector continued, with Numsa demanding that the standing offer of 10% for this year and then 8% yearly for 2014 and 2015 at least reflect 10% for all three years.

Exports, in essence, stopped dead in September, according to the latest statistics from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa).

More permanent damage has also been done after BMW South Africa announced it had lost a valuable contract to add a new vehicle production line to its Rosslyn, Pretoria, operations – allegedly mostly due to the strike.

This underscored complaints that the country’s reputation as a dependable supplier is suffering irreparable harm despite vehicle manufacturing being the flagship of South Africa’s attempts to diversify into sophisticated manufactured goods.

Earlier in the week, Jeff Nemeth, the CEO of Ford South Africa, complained that protracted strikes “do not happen elsewhere”.

If the auto industry was purely aimed at the domestic market, a strike like this might pass unnoticed, he said.

But South Africa’s master plan for its automobile sector relies heavily on exports.

In August, vehicle exports had already dropped from 26?608 units to 19?284. Last month, only 6?622 units were exported.

The industry had meant to beat its record of more than 280?000 vehicle exports, set in 2008, with an ambitious target of 330?000 exports this year.

Now it seems unlikely to equal the last two years’ performance (see graph). Numsa’s first strike, at the seven vehicle makers, started on August 19 and lasted for three weeks.

Before that strike was resolved, the second strike, affecting the components sector, kicked off on September 2 – soon leading to a shortage of inputs for the factories.

Different manufacturers have weathered the shortage of components differently, but by now they are all once again at a standstill, according to Norman Lamprecht, Naamsa’s executive manager.

Production could resume “fairly quickly” once the component strike was resolved, he said.

According to Numsa’s deputy general secretary, Karl Cloete, it’s unfair to lay all the blame at their door. “We’ve told the vehicle employers to talk to their counterparts in the component sector.”

The strike in the components sector is now approaching the crucial month-long threshold, meaning everyone involved is going to go without salaries, something Cloete described as “one of those sacrifices you make”.


A strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) against what remains of restructuring plans by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), dragged on throughout last week.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also sought to stop the retrenchments with a Labour Court application for an interdict, which was heard on Tuesday. According to the NUM, the retrenchments are now on hold until the court rules next week.

Meanwhile, employees that had been granted voluntary severance packages and early retirement left their posts this week.

They were given a month’s notice on September?2 and effectively left employment on Wednesday, Amplats spokesperson Mpumi Sithole said on Friday.

The 3?300 planned retrenchments are not only on hold until negotiations with Amcu end, but also have to wait until an “internal process” is finished, said Sithole.

The Amcu strike, which began last Friday, has crippled Amplats’ Rustenburg operations, with only 20% of employees pitching up for work this week.

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