TRANSNET has condemned a resurgence of violence against colleagues “who have chosen not to take part” in a strike at its Ngqura Container Terminal in the Coega Industrial Development Zone.
The strike was organised by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
The state transport and ports utility said it would enhance security at the port near the city of Port Elizabeth after the resumption of “acts of thuggery, violence and lawlessness against our colleagues who are exercising their right not to take part in the five-week strike action organised by Numsa members”.
“Two more houses belonging to our colleagues at the Ngqura Container Terminal were attacked in the latest spate of violent attacks,” Transnet said in statement on Thursday.
It said the incidents of stoning occurred in the early hours of Thursday morning “in what seems like a co-ordinated campaign of terror and intimidation”.
Transnet said the latest incidents, which occurred within 30 minutes of each other, both took place in Motherwell, a suburb of Port Elizabeth, bringing the total of such attacks on non-striking Ngqura workers to 18 since the strike began on April 25. All the attacks were reported to the Eastern Cape police.
Transnet said Numsa had organised a mass meeting in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday where it vowed to intensify action against the utility.
But Numsa Eastern Cape regional secretary, Phumzile Nodongwe, said on Thursday that the union had organised a meeting in Port Elizabeth attended by about 500 people, only to update members about the strike.
He could not confirm whether violence had resurfaced over the labour action, but confirmed that the strike was continuing.
The utility early last month offered a R100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of individuals involved in “petrol bombings, stonings and general lawlessness” against non-striking workers at the terminal.
“This offer still stands and we urge our colleagues and members of the public to use this opportunity,” it said.
It had subsequently locked down the facility following strike action by a “minority of employees”, saying Numsa was “not one of our recognised trade unions as it does not have sufficient members to qualify for organisational rights”.
The container terminal is a major container transshipment hub for global shipping companies. It also services the Nelson Mandela Bay metro area’s critical automotive industry and commodity exports.
“At this point in time I cannot confirm as I have not heard of such incidents. There is no intention to intensify the strike in terms of the violent actions you talk about,” said Mr Nodongwe.
Numsa said the strike revolved around the number of continuous hours that container crane operators worked during each shift; the lack of permanent employment for Numsa members because of Transnet’s use of labour brokers and also that workers at Ngqura received lower travel allowances than colleagues at Port Elizabeth’s main port.
It has consistently denied its members are involved in violence at the terminal, but last month attempted to expand the labour action to its members at the main Port Elizabeth port.
This was prevented by a Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration session in Port Elizabeth, which dismissed the Numsa bid. A subsequent Port Elizabeth Labour Court ruling rejected an application to prevent a secondary strike against Transnet by Numsa members.
Transnet has said it was not involved in this court case, which appeared to have been brought by employers it was unwilling to identify. Numsa on Thursday named global container shipper Mediterranean Shipping Company as the employer.
Numsa and Transnet met recently at an undisclosed venue according to Transnet, but the strike had not been resolved. An earlier meeting scheduled to have taken place in Johannesburg was cancelled by Transnet, Numsa said.
On Tuesday, Transnet said it had absorbed more than 300 workers into its terminals at ports in East London, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura, stating there were “no more labour brokers at Transnet’s core operations” in the Eastern Cape, and that all employees were now employed directly by the company, either on a full-time or a fixed-term basis.
This decision had followed a “long consultative process” especially with the leadership of our recognised unions, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union and Utatu Sarwhu, a new union merged from previous labour groupings, both of which it said represented more than 90% of Transnet employees in Port Elizabeth.
“A total of 304 cargo co-ordinators, drivers for articulated trucks which run inside the terminals, port workers and shuttle drivers, joined the company between May and June,” Transnet said. “We are in the process of adding another 50 and this process will be concluded by the end of this month.”