South Africa strike halts rail and port operations

* About 85 percent of Transnet’s 54,000 workers on strike

* Rail and port workers strike to push pay demands

* Fuel and commodity producers make contingency plans

By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG, May 12 (BestGrowthStock) – Thousands of South African
transport workers joined a national strike on Wednesday,
paralysing rail and port operations in Africa’s biggest economy.

The strike at state logistics group Transnet [TRAN.UL] was
the latest in a series of public protests in the country ahead
of next month’s World Cup soccer tournament.

Transnet operates no passenger services but the strike could
affect coal and iron ore exports, fuel distribution, and
shipping in one of the world’s biggest coal exporting nations.

Two labour unions representing 85 percent of Transnet’s
54,000-strong workforce have rejected a wage increase offer of
11 percent and insist on a 15 percent rise — which is well
above the country’s inflation rate of 5.1 percent.

“Nothing is moving today,” George Strauss, president of one
of the unions, the United Transport and Allied Trade Union
(Utatu), told Reuters.

The other union, the South African Transport and Allied
Workers Union (Satawu), said striking workers would organise
marches to Transnet offices in Johannesburg, Durban and
Polokwane, starting on Wednesday.

Thirteen people were arrested in Durban after a protest
turned violent on Monday, but no other incidents have been
reported. Transnet could not be reached for comment.

Transnet, commodities and fuel producers, said they could
supply customers for days due to built up stocks at the ports,
but other industries, including exporters of fresh fruit, said
they were already feeling the pain. [ID:nLDE6490H4]

Power utility Eskom [ESCJ.UL] said the strike would have no
impact on the transport of coal used to power its plants, since
only small amounts of coal were carried by rail, with the rest
supplied by conveyor belts directly from mines. [ID:nLDE6461KZ]

The two unions said they had met with Transnet to revive
talks but the company would not raise its offer.

“Management basically said ‘get lost’, so there is no
meeting scheduled at the moment… we expect a complete
shutdown, we expect all union members plus others to come out,”
Jane Barrett, Satawu’s Policy Research Officer told Reuters.

Utatu’s Strauss said he was concerned with possible violence
and intimidation against non-striking workers and accidents that
could occur as a result of the strike.

He said a train carrying diesel and gasoline to Durban from
Johannesburg derailed on Wednesday, but it was unclear what
caused the accident.

“They are struggling to get people to rectify the track
because the technical people are also on strike,” Strauss said.

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(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

South Africa strike halts rail and port operations