Johannesburg - South Africa may face strikes involving as many as 335,000 workers after deadlocks in wage talks between employers and the country’s biggest labor unions spread to gas stations and car dealerships.
About 72,000 motor-industry workers will walk out on September 2 after a breakdown in wage talks between the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the Fuel Retailers Association and Retail Motor Industry Organization, the union said yesterday.
They will join employees in the auto-manufacturing, construction and aviation industries that are already on strike, while gold mines face the threat of labor action.
Numsa “has taken a conscious decision to exercise our hard fought democratic and constitutional right to embark on an indefinite strike action,” spokesman Castro Ngobese said in an e-mailed statement.
“The strike action has not been on our agenda, but it has been imposed on us” after the motor industry didn’t meet union demands.
South Africa has been wracked by labor disputes for more than a year, hurting economic growth.
Inflation in Africa’s biggest economy accelerated to 6.3 percent in July, the highest in 15 months.
Gross domestic product rose an annualized 3 percent in the second quarter, a slower pace than the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
The rand has slumped 19 percent against the dollar this year, the worst performer of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The currency depreciated as much as 1.2 percent to 10.5096, the weakest intraday level since March 2009, and traded at 10.4557 by 8:49 a.m. in Johannesburg.
There is a 70 percent chance of strikes in the gold industry after the biggest unions rejected the last offer by producers, Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at New York-based Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note today.
The stoppage in the auto industry will probably be resolved within a week and the construction strike within two weeks, he said.
The automotive-manufacturing industry, accounting for about 7 percent of GDP, has been at a standstill since August 19, when about 30,000 workers downed tools.
Car manufacturers including Toyota Motor Corp., Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Volkswagen AG collectively tabled a new offer on August 22, representing a 10 percent increase over three years.
“We are still on strike,” Numsa Treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo said by phone today.
“The workers have not accepted the 10 percent offer from the employers.”
The National Union of Mineworkers and the Building, Construction and Allied Workers Union rejected a 7.5 percent increase offer from the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors.
“From our statistics about 49 percent of canvassed companies employees didn’t turn up for work on Aug. 26,” Annemie Cowley, manager for communications and marketing at the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, or Safcec, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“We remain hopeful that the strike will not be of a long-term nature. About 90,000 workers are employed in the civil engineering contracting industry.”
Safcec has about 400 employer members including Murray & Roberts Holdings Ltd. and Aveng Ltd., the country’s biggest construction companies, according to the federation.
Talks are at “a standstill now,” Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the NUM, said by phone today.
The seven-member FTSE/JSE Africa Construction and Building Materials Index, fell for a second day.
The NUM, the biggest union in the gold-mining industry, attended a meeting on wages on August 26 and reached a point of non-resolution with mining companies.
The union has rejected the last offer by the Chamber of Mines and may decide on a strike in that industry as early as August 31.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the second-largest representative of employees at bullion producers, also rejected a revised offer and has applied for a certificate of non-resolution, Elize Strydom, the chief negotiator for gold companies at the chamber, said on Johannesburg-based SAFM today. The permit gives the union’s members permission to start an authorised strike.
A gold-mining strike would result in 142,000 people stopping work in an industry already affected by a 15 percent decline in the price of the metal this year. The six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Gold Mining Index has fallen 39 percent this year compared with a 9.1 percent increase in the FTSE/JSE Africa All-Share Index.
“Strikes are not the end of the world,” Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said at a mining conference in Johannesburg yesterday. “Let the workers and the employers find the right balance. At the end of the day there must be enough cooperation to create normality in our environment.”
The strike at South African Airways has caused only minor disruption, with four flights delayed since August 26, spokesman Tlali Tlali said yesterday. About 600 SAA technical staff began work stoppages on August 26.
“The company is still hopeful that a speedy resolution to the current impasse can be found,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
About 650 daily flights are scheduled at the nine facilities managed by the Airports Company South Africa, Deborah Francis, a spokeswoman for the state-owned company, said by phone yesterday. - Bloomberg News