Durban port Picture: Supplied.
Durban - The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) is set to down tools in a countrywide port protest that could see the shipping industry lose billions of rand.

Satawu said yesterday they had been given permission to embark on a strike tomorrow. Affected ports include Durban, Richards Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Saldanha Bay, Mossel Bay and East London, effectively causing a massive backlog in sea and road freight offloading.

Striking members include tug masters, pilots who bring in the ships, and chief marine engineers who maintain ships and operate engines.

On average, mariners move three ships per two-hour interval. These vessels each ferry goods worth millions of rand.

According to Satawu’s Zanele Sabela, the union served notice of the impending strike to management at the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) on Monday.

“At issue is the salary discrepancy between black and white mariners, with white mariners drawing higher salaries than their black counterparts, even when they have less experience.”

Sabela said the certificate to strike was granted by the CCMA last month. She said after they were granted the certificate, TNPA contacted them to ask for them to put off the industrial action.

“They said that they wanted to negotiate. The parties held two meetings but could not reach a satisfactory agreement. We asked that a neutral third party be commissioned to conduct an investigation and make recommendations on how the issue should be handled, but management declined,” she said.

Durban Chamber of Commerce chief executive Palesa Phili said the local economy relied heavily on the transport and logistics sectors, and the action would have a significant impact on their operations and their value chain, and that of their customers.

“Several industry sectors, such as manufacturing and agri-processing in Durban, are extremely reliant on the port. The Durban Chamber calls for a consensus to be reached immediately in order to avoid exorbitant costs and losses to the business community,” she said.

Ports and shipping expert Terry Hutson said it could cost a ship anything from $10000 (R147000) to $30000 a day to operate.

“This will impact on how ships enter the harbour, dock and discharge their cargo,” he said.

Hutson said apart from the financial implications to the port, the road freight industry would be affected.

“You get drivers who come from outlying areas. They will be hit hardest. Many are self-run businesses and this will have a massive impact on them because it means they’ll be prevented from entering the port,” he said.

A truck owner said his business stood to lose R500 000 a day.