TRANSNET is offering 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 its Ngqura Container Terminal near Port Elizabeth.
The state-owned port and rail utility said the container facility was locked down following strike action by a “minority of employees” organised by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), which is “not one of our recognised trade unions as it does not have sufficient members to qualify for organisational rights”.
The container terminal within the Ngqura port — situated in the Coega Industrial Development Zone — is a major container transshipment hub for global shipping companies. The port also services the Nelson Mandela Bay metro area’s critical automotive industry and commodity exports.
Transnet and Numsa executives both say the strike is legal. It revolves around three specific issues: 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 paid more than colleagues at Port Elizabeth’s main port for travel allowances.
But Transnet says that three houses in the surrounding Nelson Mandela Bay metro area — belonging to “colleagues” at the container terminal — have been stoned and petrol-bombed. It also says there have been a total of “16 attacks and violent acts” since Numsa launched its strike action last Friday.
Numsa Eastern Cape regional secretary, Phumzile Nodongwe, on Thursday denied that any of the union’s members at the port were involved in violence. Instead, he said it was striking Numsa workers whose homes in the areas surrounding Port Elizabeth had been burned and stoned.
“We can’t confirm who has engaged in violent acts. These people are taking advantage of the situation,” he said.
He also said that Numsa was the majority union at the container port, with about 900 workers, but that this was not recognised by Transnet.
“The strike can end tomorrow if demands are met,” Mr Nodongwe said.
Siyabulela Mhlaluka, GM of Transnet Port Terminals in the Eastern Cape, on Thursday confirmed the three main issues pertaining to the strike, but said that the Ngqura container terminal only employed about 600 workers.
He said that of these only about 120 were members of Numsa, which meant they did not attain Transnet’s union recognition level of 30% of the workforce nationally.
He denied Numsa’s claim that its members were in the majority at the terminal. “This is not correct — not at all,” he said. “Transnet is engaged on all these issues with our recognised trade unions.”
Mr Mhlaluka said Numsa needed to call off the strike and withdraw its demands before the lockout was rescinded.
Transnet said earlier this week that affiliates of its recognised unions represented about 80% of workers at the Nqura container terminal. This included members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union and also transport union Utatu Sarwhu.
“To ensure that perpetrators of these violent acts are brought to justice, Transnet has committed a R100,000 reward for information that may lead to the arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrators,” it said in a statement.
“We have reported all the incidents to the relevant security agencies and members of the public are encouraged to report any incidents of criminal behaviour.”
Mr Mhlaluka said the offer of a reward by Transnet was “a sign of commitment regarding the apprehension of culprits”. He was not aware if Transnet had offered such rewards in the past.
Transnet had also said it was working with authorities, including the police, to ensure that non-strikers were able to exercise their right not to partake in the “Numsa-organised strike”.
The utility also said it had “activated contingency plans”, including a command centre staffed by executives from its port operations to ensure minimum disruption to port users and customers.