Transport workers in South Africa have been on strike since the 10th of May. Major South African exports, including fruit, metals and wine have sat idle in warehouses following the walkouts of railway and port workers.
The strike has involved some 50,000 workers, including members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), the South African Railways and Harbour Workers' Union and the United Transport and Allied Trade Union. The workers are in dispute with Transnet Ltd., South Africa's largest rail and port operator and freight logistics company.
The walkout was announced following the failure of pay negotiations with management, with an official demand of a 15% pay rise in opposition to management's offer of 11%. Duncan Speilman, a Satawu shop steward, commented “Management is offering a conditional 11 per cent. That is unacceptable for our members. The way forward is that we will keep on engaging. We won’t stop engaging. But the strike will go on until our demand of 15 per cent is met. You can’t compromise on 15 per cent at this time. Over the years there has been a growing gap between the salaries of management and junior employees and we can’t compromise this time around.”
The citrus fruit trade, second only to that of Spain, has come to a total standstill as the strike prevents crops from being transported. Cold storage has been reported to have filled up at the end of the week, meaning future shipments will decompose in the heat.
South African exporters have posted notice of their inability to deliver shipments as the strike has paralysed sections of the economy. A number of companies, including Samancor Ltd, Ruukki Group and Xstrata Plc – all Ferrochrome producers – and Anglo-American Plc subsidiary Kumba Iron Ore Ltd posted force majeure, a legal clause that states their inability to make shipments due to circumstances beyond their control.
Four weeks' worth of coal stocks are left.
The strike has been accompanied by protest marches in major cities. On the 11th of May demonstrators marched through Cape Town, Mafikeng, Port Elizabeth, East London, Richards Bay and Vryheid. Protests took place in Durban and Polokwane on the 12th, and the 14th of May in Johannesburg . This has led to a backlash from the state, with thirteen protesters arrested earlier in the week for “violence and intimidation”, according to Transnet management.
The Transnet strike has been accompanied by an 'illegal' strike by Rea Vaya bus system workers in Johannesburg and strike action by the South African Communication Workers Union during the week. The bus workers struck to demand recognition for the the SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu).