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Cape Town - As petrol attendants joined fellow National Union of Metalworkers members (Numsa) on a national strike on Monday, some city service stations closed shop after workers failed to turn up for the morning shift.
A service station owner in Mfuleni, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s not so much fear of being assaulted at work, but people know that they may be attacked at taxi ranks before commuting.
“After what happened last week, people are scared. I don’t really blame them, but our business is suffering hugely as a result.”
Mfuleni and Delft were hotbeds of strike-related violence last week as strikers in the construction industry attacked workers waiting for transport.
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.”
Another service station manager in Mitchells Plain, who asked for anonymity, said only 20 percent of his staff had come to work.
“We are trying our best to keep the pumps open. I don’t want to fall foul of the strikers and I do want to show solidarity, but I also have a business to run.”
The manager said he would pay the remaining staff a “little bonus” in appreciation for their coming to work when their colleagues stayed away.
In other instances, such as 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.
Casual workers or staff who did report for work wore casual clothing as they filled up cars.
A casual attendant at a Shell filling station in the Bo-Kaap said: “These guys don’t mess about – they will beat you, they will kill you. I am working because I need the money, but I will be out of here when I see trouble coming.”
Wage negotiations between Numsa and employer representatives, the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the Fuel Retailers Association, deadlocked in July.
Numsa, which claims to represent 70 000 workers in motor services, has demanded, among other things, 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.
Vuyo Lufele, Numsa’s Western Cape regional secretary, 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 last week. The RMI has offered a five-percent increase.
Dumisa Ncetani, 27, says he has been working at a petrol station in Cape Town for three years without promotion. He earns a little over R750 for a 44-hour week, or about R17 an hour.
“It is very difficult to survive in this city with so little money. That is why we are asking for a bigger increase – that is why I am striking,” he said.
Numsa members also marched in Randburg on Monday.