Johannesburg - Pumps at fuel stations across the country could go dry from today as about 15 000 workers aligned to the Chemical, Energy, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu) go on strike in demand of higher wages.
The union notified the National Petroleum Employment Association (NPEA) it would go on strike if its demand for a 9 percent wage increase over one year was not met.
The association had offered a multiyear 6.5 percent increase, but Ceppwawu said yesterday that it had already served NPEA with a 48-hour industrial strike notice, which would come into effect from today.
The strike is likely to affect crude oil refineries and fuel depots, but fears of shortages are also likely to trigger panic buying of fuel in anticipation of shortages.
While the fuel retailers are not part of the wage dispute, they stand to lose money if the strike results in fuel shortages.
South Africa’s major petroleum companies yesterday moved to allay fears of fuel supply shortages, saying they had contingency plans in place.
Chevron South Africa confirmed that it had received notification from Ceppwawu of the impending strike action.
The company said it would ensure that sufficient supplies of fuel and related products were available to its customers at its national network of Caltex service stations.
Chevron also owns the 110 000 barrels-a-day refinery in Cape Town.
“We have prepared for the possibility of a strike and while nothing can be guaranteed, we will do as much as reasonably possible to ensure the continued supply of fuel products to our customers. Our refinery and terminals will continue operations and we do not anticipate any delivery interruptions from our haulers, as their drivers are not affiliated to Ceppwawu,” Chevron spokeswoman Suzanne Pullinger said.
Energy and chemicals group, Sasol, which has a network of service stations across the country, said the strike would affect its petroleum operating businesses, Sasol Synfuels, the National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa (Natref) and Sasol Energy.
The Natref refinery in Sasolburg is a joint venture between Sasol and Total South Africa.
“Sasol has put contingency plans in place to ensure the minimum disruption to our customers, as well as to ensure the safety of our employees and contractors during this time, and will continue to proactively monitor the situation. Sasol remains committed to the safety of its employees and the community,” Sasol said in a statement.
Avhapfani Tshifularo, the South African Petroleum Industry Association executive director, said the industry body would monitor the impact of the strike. “At the moment we do not have any issues with availability of (petroleum) products,” Tshifularo said.
Cosatu threw its weight behind the strike. Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said Ceppwawu’s demands were justified considering the relatively high inflation.
Pamla said the price of bread had gone up 10.6 percent and transport by 8.7 percent.
He dismissed NPEA’s 6.5 percent offer as “wholly inadequate”.
“Cosatu is calling on the employers to accede to the workers’ demands of a 9 percent wage increase, minimum wage of R8 000 and a one-year agreement.
“To avoid strikes and improve labour relations, employers need to address the extreme levels of inequality and poverty wages they pay workers,” Pamla said.