Johannesburg - Workers at South African companies including Sasol and Eskom started a nationwide protest over a lack of jobs for the country’s youth, the largest union said.
“We are expecting workers to start the strike today,” Castro Ngobese, spokesman for the National Union of Metalworkers, said by phone.
Demonstrations are planned in at least six provinces to demand jobs for young people, the union known as Numsa said in a statement yesterday.
The group, with membership exceeding 340,000, said as many as half a million people are expected to attend rallies.
More than 70,000 miners affiliated with a different union are already on strike at South African platinum shafts, the largest in the world, in an eight-week standoff that has cost producers more than $800 million in lost sales.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 protesters are expected at a community hall in the eastern Mpumalanga province, Eric Linda, a Numsa regional secretary, said by phone interview.
They will include workers from Sasol, Eskom, and mining operations including Samancor, he said.
Eskom’s role as supplier of 95 percent of the country’s electricity makes a strike by its workers illegal, said Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based utility.
“If an employee takes leave and joins the action, then they’re entitled to do that, but certainly not while they’re on the clock at Eskom,” Etzinger said.
Sasol, the world’s biggest producer of liquid fuels from coal, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
While Food and Allied Workers Union members won’t join the strike, they will encourage workers to participate in the protest marches, the South African Press Association reported, citing Katishi Masemola, general secretary of the labor group.
South Africa, which has a jobless rate of 24 percent, holds elections on May 7.
Numsa has said it won’t campaign in support of the ruling African National Congress, as it has before previous ballots.
While it has withdrawn its backing for the ANC, the union said it won’t actively campaign for other parties or discourage its members from voting for the ANC. - Bloomberg News