A STRIKE that Transnet says is led by the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) at the national transport and port utility’s Nqgura container terminal near Port Elizabeth entered its 14th day on Thursday, showing little sign of being resolved.
The labour action, which has seen violence including petrol bombings and stonings, has sparked concern over the Nelson Mandela Bay area’s crucial automotive industry, which relies heavily on imports and exports.
The container terminal is situated within the Port of Ngqura, which is situated in the Coega Industrial Development Zone. It is a container transshipment hub for global shipping companies, also complementing the export of key commodities and agro-processing products.
Transnet has agreed to meet Numsa on Monday at the parastatal’s Carlton Centre headquarters in Johannesburg, subject to conditions: namely, that ongoing strike action be conducted without violence, and also that Numsa did not seek to involve workers at Port Elizabeth’s main port in the dispute.
The state-owned company said that 16 houses “belonging to our colleagues at Ngqura container terminal” were stoned and petrol-bombed since Numsa launched its strike action on April 25. No one had been hurt, Transnet said, and violence had since ceased.
On Thursday, Transnet Port Terminals GM Siyabulela Mhlaluka reiterated that there had been “minimum disruption” to Transnet’s operations and customers. There had not had any delays in berthing vessels and no vessels had been diverted to other terminals, he said, despite Transnet having locked-out on all striking workers from Monday last week.
“Although the strike is still ongoing, our colleagues affiliated to Transnet’s recognised unions, Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) and Utatu Sarwhu (a new union merged from previous labour groupings), who represent around 80% of (the container terminal workers), continue to work.”
Transnet last week offered a R100,000 reward for “information that may lead to the arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrators”.
Numsa regional secretary in the Eastern Cape, Phumzile Nodongwe subsequently denied any of the union’s members were involved in strike violence. Instead, he said it was the homes of Numsa workers in urban areas surrounding Port Elizabeth that had come under attack.
He also called Transnet’s claim that the Numsa was a non-recognised minority union at the container terminal a “blatant lie”, and said that Numsa members made up about 500 of a total of about 600 workers employed there.
But Eddie de Klerk, deputy general secretary of Utatu Sarwhu, said on Thursday his union and Transnet’s other recognised transport union, Satawu, were not on strike at the container terminal, and made up 491 of the about 600 workers.
In the meantime, Transnet said it was repairing the damaged properties of the non -striking workers.
The strike at the container terminal comes as negotiations in a separate strike, by 723 Numsa members at Continental Tyre SA in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro area, are still underway.
The German tyre maker confirmed on Thursday it could continue with limited production and continue to meet the needs of original equipment manufacturers as well as the replacement market, but “should the strike continue it could have a negative impact on production”.
“No injuries have been reported , however we have become aware of an employee whose home was petrol bombed for wishing to return to work. No-one was hurt in the incident,” Dieter Horni, MD of the company, said on Thursday.
The Coega Development Corporation said earlier that some of its investors in the Coega Industrial Development Zone did use the Port of Ngqura for imports and exports, but that none had reported delays as a result of the strike.
“Firstly, we would like to be clear that this is a Transnet Port Terminal challenge,” Ayanda Vilakazi, head of marketing and communications, said. “(But) we are happy to report that it has been business as usual from our side”.