General Motors (GM) had suspended production at its main Port Elizabeth plant after the metals and engineering industry strike hit parts supplies, the US car maker said on Friday, making it the latest victim of relentless labour unrest.
The strike will also further unnerve investors, who are increasingly frustrated by the unremitting labour strife and perceptions that the government is unable or unwilling to rein in militant unions.
“The plant has been shut since yesterday because of the parts supplier issues,” GM South Africa spokeswoman Denise van Huyssteen said.
Toyota South Africa Motors said it was “business as usual” for the company despite the strike. “We still have full production capacity,” spokeswoman Mary Willemse said.
The local unit of Mercedes-Benz said it did not expect an immediate impact.
Twenty-six people had been arrested in Gauteng for intimidation, public violence and malicious damage to property during the strike that started on Tuesday, police said on Friday.
The 26 had been arrested in connection with crimes committed over the first three days of the strike, SAPS spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said.
Of these, 19 people had been arrested in Elandsfontein on the East Rand after protesters, believed to be strikers from the metals and engineering industries, broke the gate of a business. When police arrived, the crowd stoned their vehicles. Police used rubber bullets to disperse them.
In a separate incident in Benoni, also on the East Rand, on Thursday, about 2 000 striking workers forced their way into a company and damaged equipment and computers. The damage was estimated at several million rand.
In Wadeville, also on the East Rand, nine people were arrested for allegedly breaking windows at a business premises. “Although it is a protected strike and employees are allowed to picket, acts of violence will not be tolerated and police are ready to take action,” Dlamini said.
The biggest employer body in the wage negotiations, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), said efforts to end the stalemate and terminate the violent strike failed on Thursday night when the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) rejected a new offer made by employers represented by the federation.
Seifsa had upped its wage offer from 8 percent to 10 percent for lower-level workers, and from 7 percent to 8 percent for higher-level artisans in a three-year wage offer. Numsa wants a 12 percent increase, a one-year agreement, a ban on labour brokers, and an end to the youth wage subsidy.
Kaizer Nyatsumba, the chief executive of Seifsa, said the offer of a 10 percent increase was a whopping 25 percent move for the federation and the 8 percent offer represented a 14 percent adjustment.
He said while Seifsa would continue to hold one-on-one discussions with the unions that were active within the sector, it did not have any future meetings planned with Numsa.
In contrast, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said he believed the two sides were “not very far from each other”.
However, he said issues like stopping the youth wage subsidy and the removal of labour brokers were key to a settlement to end the strike.
Nyatsumba said Seifsa had approached Thursday night’s meeting full of optimism that the new offer would lead to the conclusion of a deal that would see employees returning to work this week. The failure to reach an agreement was deeply disappointing. He said the new offer was the very best that Seifsa could make under difficult economic circumstances. – Additional reporting by Sapa