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South Africa port’s smaller union vows to continue strike

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    Nat Quinn

    The smaller of the two main labor unions at South Africa’s state-owned port and rail operator vowed to continue a strike over wages that are curbing key exports.

    The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union rejected its rival United National Transport Union’s acceptance of Transnet’s pay offer and said industrial action will continue until workers are assured they won’t lose their jobs.

    UNTU said Monday it agreed a three-year deal with the company for increases of as much as 6%.

    “The strike is going on,” Satawu spokeswoman Amanda Tshemese said by phone on Tuesday. “Our members made it clear that until we get a no-retrenchment clause and what is due to them, the strike will go on.”

    Satawu says it represents about a third of Transnet’s 55,827 full-time and contract staff, compared with 24,992 for UNTU.

    Thungela Resources, the nation’s largest shipper of coal burned in power stations, said Transnet is yet to disclose when normal services are expected to resume.

    “Thungela continues to ship from the Richards Bay Coal Terminal as we draw from stock levels at port,” Tarryn Genis, a spokeswoman for the company, said by email.

    “We are awaiting a start-up plan from Transnet Freight Rail which will provide some clarity on a return to the normal rail service, noting that a minimum number of trains are in place to start running.”

    The strike, which UNTU began on Oct. 6 and Satawu joined four days later, is crimping South African shipments of iron ore, coal and chrome. The Minerals Council South Africa estimates it’s costing mining companies about R815 million ($45 million) a day. Fruit producers have also expressed concern that their harvests will rot at the docks.

    Satawu is willing to negotiate to end the impasse with Transnet as it’s aware of the consequences of the industrial action, Tshemese said.

    The strike is another blow to South Africa’s economy, which contracted 0.7% in the second quarter. Economic growth faces more headwinds from state-owned power utility Eskom Holdings, which is implementing rolling electricity outages due to frequent breakdowns at its generation plants.

    While the increase is lower than what the unions were demanding, the pay deal UNTU agreed to still undermines a pledge by the government to rein in state wages.

    The remuneration of South African public servants accounts for almost a third of total government spending and keeping it in check is key to the National Treasury’s plans to reduce its budget deficit and bring debt under control.

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