SA on edge as strikes drag on

Johannesburg - South Africa’s main fuel sector union and employees at power utility Eskom said on Thursday they had rejected employers’ latest wage offers, raising tensions in strikes threatening the economy.

Fuel sector employers offered an 8% rise, 3% above inflation, but the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) wants 13%.
 
Employers are willing to pay the above-inflation wage increases to secure labour peace, while shedding jobs over the past several years in order to save on costs.

“Our mandate is clear, that we will strike until such time we have reached an agreement with our employers, which our members must agree with,” said John Appolis, Ceppwawu's national policy coordinator. He said talks were planned with employers in the fuel and paper sectors on Friday and with the pharmaceutical industry on Monday.

Strikes spreading
 
In other disputes, workers at diamond giant De Beers in have said they would go on strike on Friday, while negotiations in the coal mining sector have reached a deadlock.

Coal firms have been served with a 48-hour strike notice, with workers expected to start walking off the job on Monday. The industry is unlikely to improve its offer any further, said Frans Barker, the chamber’s negotiator for the sector.

“What is on the table is final,” he told Reuters.
 
Strikes are also looming in South Africa’s major gold and platinum sectors which could threaten global supplies at a time when commodity prices are surging.

In a separate dispute, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) said it had rejected a 5.5% pay rise offer from Eskom. The union wants 16%.
 
Eskom, struggling to pay for new power plants after an electricity crunch in 2008 that forced miners and smelters to shut, gave workers a 9% raise last year and R1 500 a month for housing to head off a strike when South Africa was hosting the World Cup soccer finals.

Workers in the electricity sector make on average R25 773 a month in wages and benefits, according to government statistics, about double the average non-farm worker.
 
The small but influential Solidarity union on Wednesday suspended its strike in the petroleum sector, although it has yet to reach a deal with employers.

Fuel supplies
 
The South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) said there had been an improvement in the delivery of fuel to regions affected by the strike.

“We welcome the return of employees to work and would like to encourage unions and union members ... to give this generous offer serious consideration,” Sapia executive director Avhapfani Tshifularo said.
 
Since 2008, miners, factory workers, and steel workers have won raises averaging more than 10% a year, making South Africa’s labour market less competitive than those in other emerging markets. 
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