Motor industry strike starts

Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) working at petrol stations, workshops and motor dealerships down tools today.

“Nothing has changed. The strike is going ahead,” said Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese.

Talks were continuing with the Retailers Motor Industry (RMI) and Fuel Retailers’ Association (FRA) to resolve the impasse.

FRA CEO Reggie Sibiya said talks yesterday evening between the employers and the union were unsuccessful.

“We didn’t come to any resolution.”

He said talks would resume tomorrow at 1pm.

“We will be talking around the principles then,” he said.

Ngobese said it was impossible to say how many members were involved, but explained that the union had 70 000 members in the sector across the country.

They worked as, among others, fuel attendants, or in workshops, dealerships and engineering.

Filling stations visited by Sapa in northwestern Johannesburg had few petrol pump attendants on duty today.

Most of those who could be seen on the forecourts were in “civilian” dress rather than the familiar uniforms of the branded retail petrol outlets.

An attendant in casual attire filled a Sapa staffer’s car, but said he was taking a “very big risk”.

Asked if he feared intimidation or even violence, the young man mumbled and added: “It’s better not to talk about this.”

The staffer’s vehicle was the only car on the usually ­jam-packed forecourt situated on a busy Johannesburg suburban through road.

Sibiya said he visited five garages in Johannesburg and they were all operating, although some employees had not arrived for work.

“We have hired temporary labour,” he said.

SABC radio news reported that petrol attendants were blocking the entrance to the Ultra City on the N4 near Middelburg.

The Congress of SA Trade Union (Cosatu) came out in support of the strike.

“The Congress of South African Trade Union pledges its full support to the strike by 70 000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) working in garages, components, workshops, automotives and dealerships,” it said in a statement.

“They have tried to persuade these stubborn employers to pay a decent wage to these low-paid workers but have been left with no alternative but to withdraw their labour.”

Cosatu called on its members to join the pickets and demonstrations across the country.

Numsa was demanding a 20% wage increment across the board and a 40-hour working week with full pay.

The union wanted a one-year bargaining agreement to be put in place beginning on September 1 2010, and ending on June 30, 2011.

“Our demands to the RMI and FRA are consistent with the African National Congress’ electoral commitments of creating decent work and sustainable livelihoods for the workers and the poor,” the union said in a statement last Tuesday.

A march would take place in Bellville, in the Western Cape, where a memorandum of demands would be handed over to the RMI.

Sibiya said on Tuesday the gap between what it could offer and Numsa’s demands was “too huge”.

He said a “huge wage adjustment” of 68% was introduced in 2007 to bring the industry in line with minimum living wage expectations.

This was followed by above-inflation increases in 2008 and last year.

Sibiya said FRA had signed an agreement with the union preventing intimidation and victimisation.

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