Trevor Manuel. Picture: Candice Chaplin.

Johannesburg - South Africa’s labour union movement is damaging industrial relations that have exacerbated widespread strikes in the continent’s largest economy, according to Trevor Manuel, a minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office.

Divisions at the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the ruling African National Congress- aligned Confederation of South African Trade Unions have helped to create a dysfunctional labour market, Manuel told Bloomberg TV Africa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland yesterday.

At least 70,000 workers at the world’s three biggest platinum producers are currently on strike, while employees at the automaking, construction and aviation industries were among those that staged walkouts last year.

“Cosatu is living through its own summer of discontent, AMCU has divisions,” said Manuel, who is also head of the country’s National Planning Commission.

“All that bodes poorly for the industrial relations environment, because there are too many forces who kind of want to thump their chests. What the country needs is a labour market that operates efficiently.”

The strike by AMCU members at Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Ltd. and Lonmin Plc, has entered a third day with workers demanding a minimum entry-level wage of 12,500 rand ($1,127) per month, more than double the current pay.

The work stoppages are placing pressure on South Africa’s current-account deficit which reached 6.8 percent of gross domestic product in the three months through September.

The rand slid to its weakest level since October 2008 yesterday, declining 0.9 percent to 11.0886 per dollar.

The nation relies on metal exports for more than half its foreign exchange earnings. The country is the world’s largest producer of platinum, used in jewellry and catalytic converters, and the sixth biggest miner of gold. - Bloomberg News