S.Africa's fuel attendants strike off to slow start

AFP , Monday 9 Sep 2013

The new strikes come as tens of thousands of workers in the auto manufacturing and mining industries ended their work stoppages

South Africa
Striking members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) dance outside Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, August 26, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A strike by South African petrol station attendants got off to a slow start Monday despite union calls for them to join a wave of work stoppages over wages that is sweeping the country.

Most fuel stations in the economic hub of Johannesburg were open and workers, without their uniforms, filled up car tanks.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which represents around a third of the sector's employees, had called on fuel station attendants and mechanics to walk off the job after wage talks collapsed.

Fuel attendants on average earn 18 rand ($1.8, 1.40 euros) per hour but they are demanding a raise to 30 rand ($3.00, 2.30 euros), which translates to 76 percent increase. Employers are prepared to give a 7.0 percent raise.

"The jump from 17 rand to 30 rand is huge, it's not realistic," the chief executive officer of the Fuel Retail Association, Reggie Sibiya told AFP.

"We can't afford it, but we are willing to engage and negotiate."

With many gas stations open, employers said the impact of the strike so far was minimal. "Most of the service stations are operating 100 percent alright," said Sibiya.

The Retail Motor Industry (RMI) said the unions wages and other demands were unrealistic.

"Under the circumstances, it's unreasonably high," said RMI chief Jakkie Olivier "It's not affordable against the backdrop of the current inflation rate."

Inflation is currently at 6.3 percent.

Numsa general secretary, Irwin Jim, said there workers were well aware that the economy is in a crisis.

But "as workers, we will not pay for this crisis," Jim said to hundreds of striking workers gathered in Johannesburg.

The labour group alleged that attendants had been intimidated to work.

"Those workers at work today are being threatened by their employers," spokesman Castro Ngobese told AFP.

"We are doing everything to make sure workers come out in their numbers," he added.

The RMI chief said he had received a report of an isolated incident of intimidation of a worker who was pulled out of his car and assaulted by striking colleagues in the southeastern port city of Durban.

The workers were to march to the offices of the fuel and motor industry retailers in Johannesburg and Cape Town to hand over a memorandum.

Non-striking petrol attendants wore plain clothes to avoid intimidation from strikers, which can often be brutal and even deadly.

The new strikes come as tens of thousands of workers in the auto manufacturing and mining industries ended their work stoppages.

Car makers returned to work Monday after a 21-day stoppage, while gold mining workers called off their industrial action within days of refusing to go underground.

Harmony Gold, the last mine with stoppages, announced Monday "that operations at all of its mines were normalised" after workers accepted an 8.0-percent increase.

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