Johannesburg - A South African union leading the sugar industry’s first pay strike in 17 years, is staging a march at offices of Remgro’s TSB Sugar unit and may extend the stoppage to other companies.

Leaders of the Food and Allied Workers Union are addressing striking workers near TSB Sugar’s mills in Malalane in the eastern Mpumalanga province “to shower our members with encouragement and support for the strike,” FAWU General Secretary Katishi Masemola said by phone.

The union will be mobilising members at companies where sugar is used as an ingredient for a possible solidarity strike, it said.

About 5,500 employees working in the KwaZulu-Natal Natal and Mpumalanga regions stopped work in support of their demand for an 11 percent wage increase on May 27.

Employers including Illovo Sugar and Tongaat Hulett, Africa’s two biggest producers of the sweetener, have offered raises of 8.5 percent.

South Africa is already in its longest and most costly mining stoppage, which began four months ago when platinum workers walked off the job at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin, the world’s biggest producers of the metal.

The 1997 sugar-industry strike lasted 10 days, Illovo Managing Director Gavin Dalgleish said.

The sugar producers are currently in talks with the nation’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, according to Masemola.

A bigger protest march is planned for June 4 in the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, he said.

“There was never a point where we were close to an agreement, the gap has always been wide,” said Masemola.

“We are aware that the employer has been meeting with the CCMA, in fact they are meeting this morning as we speak.”

The FAWU is also requesting a 40-hour working week, a monthly housing subsidy of 800 rand and permanent employment of fixed-term contract staff. - Bloomberg News