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Cape Town - Tension between employer and worker representatives is rising on the second day of the motor service industry strike, with both sides claiming incidents of intimidation.
With no date set for negotiations, mutual accusations of intimidation are being exchanged by employers and the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (Numsa).
Vuyo Lufele, regional secretary for Numsa in the Western Cape, has lashed out at employers for spreading “cheap propaganda” about workers being intimidated.
Lufele contends that where workers are working, they are doing so because of “serious intimidation” by employers.
This comes after Reggie Sibiya, chief executive of the Fuel Retailers Association, accused the union’s members of employing intimidation tactics to keep “willing workers” away.
Said Lufele: “Most of these workers are not willing at all. They want to join their comrades in the strike, but they have been told that they will be fired. We are now in the process of making a list of the employers who are making these threats and we will report them.”
Sibiya warned Numsa on Tuesday morning to stick to picketing rules or face a court interdict. The rules, agreed upon between Numsa and employers on Friday, call for peaceful picketing and non-violent protest.
“Most of the service stations nationally are operational, but we have had reports of assault and intimidation of workers by striking Numsa members. We have reported these breaches of the rules to Numsa and expect them to control their members and to take action against those who break the rules,” Sibiya said.
At the head office of Beekman Canopies in Stikland, 50 picketing Numsa members on Tuesday morning reportedly prevented two staff members from re-entering the premises after they had stepped out for refreshments at an adjacent shop.
On Monday, petrol attendants joined fellow Numsa members on a national strike. Some city service stations closed shop after workers failed to turn up for the morning shift.
With the memory of violent intimidation during a 2010 strike in the sector, Hyder Ebrahim, owner of a Caltex garage in Spine Road, Khayelitsha, said he had given his 32 petrol attendants the day off.
“It happens every three years. In 2010 one of my guys was badly beaten with sticks right here on the forecourt in broad daylight. I am losing a lot - R10 000 a day in fact - but the safety of my staff is more important than any of that.”
At the Caltex garage near the V&A Waterfront, managers said they had been caught off-guard by the stayaway. In one case a manager said he had “literally had to pull people in from the street” to work the pumps.
Wage negotiations between Numsa and employer representatives, the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the Fuel Retailers Association, deadlocked in July.
Demands by Numsa, which represents 70 000 workers at petrol stations and in motor services, include a double-digit increase in wages. It issued a strike notice last Thursday.
About 800 Numsa members marched on the RMI offices in Parow on Monday to hand over a memorandum of demands.
Lufele said other workers should be “peacefully convinced” to join their “comrades” in the strike.
Members of the Fuel Retailers Association have reverted to a seven-percent offer after their offer of 9.5 percent was rejected. The RMI offer is five percent.