Port of Durban. File Picture
Durban - The Port of Durban on Wednesday battled to cope with congestion and backlogs with trucks unable to enter the port due to thousands of Transnet workers embarking on a three- day national strike.

However, the disruptions at Africa’s busiest port were short-lived as workers were ordered to go back to work following a court interdict declaring the strike action unlawful and unprotected.

Transnet obtained an order interdicting the industrial action and declaring the strike planned by the Revolutionary Transport Union of South Africa (Retusa) unlawful and unprotected in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Wednesday, Transnet spokesperson Molatwane Likethe said.

The union had called the strike, which it planned to run until Friday, to raise grievances about alleged exploitation of outsourced staff and not being recognised as a union in the workplace.

“Disruptions at the Port of Durban were reported this morning (Wednesday) after incidents of stone-throwing and intimidation.

“However, the situation was quickly dealt with after intervention by law enforcement officers. Contingency plans are in place to make sure that full operations at the Port of Durban are restored,” Likethe said.

Durban Harbour Carriers Association chairperson Sue Moodley said the strike had exacerbated the existing congestion in the port.

“We were disappointed because we were only given notification of the strike yesterday (Tuesday) but notice of the intent to strike was given to Transnet three weeks ago.”

Moodley said trucks had been unable to enter the port yesterday morning and the ongoing congestion was causing a knock-on effect of backlogs at warehouses and distribution centres in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, incurring additional costs for businesses and consumers.

Economist Mike Schussler said congestion in the port of Durban was an ongoing problem that had a “big impact” on the economy.

“There are already huge delays under normal circumstances in the port and very often it takes up to 36 hours and longer to take your goods out. If you can’t get goods out it is very problematic because we can’t do without imports and exports in this country,” Schussler said.

“It’s also going to have a knock-on effect because where people see we have a high tendency to strike they are going to be averse to investing here and it keeps unemployment levels high,” he said.

Rights

Transnet said it recognised and respected the rights of employees to belong to a union of their choice, which is regulated by the Transnet Recognition Agreement. “The agreement provides that a trade union can only be recognised within Transnet if it represents 25% of the workforce across the company,” Likethe said. Transnet employs more than 55000 permanent staff, of which Retusa had around 4500 members who worked for Transnet’s divisions countrywide.

Retusa general secretary Joseph Dube said some 2000 workers had heeded the call to down tools.

He said the union had the right to have access to the workplace and to appoint shop stewards. However, he said Transnet would not allow the union to appoint shop stewards or representatives to defend its members in the workplace.

“They won’t allow us to have access and are acting as if we are criminals. We are very disappointed that our strike has been declared unprotected. We will withdraw because we have to comply.”

Dube said workers’ grievances included allegations of exploitation of outsourced workers, who were earning as little as R1500 to R2000 a month, while Transnet employees doing similar work earned around R15000 a month.

“They are being treated worse than farmworkers and domestic workers. They are treated like slaves,” he said. Dube added that outsourced security personnel were also being exploited.

The union is expected to meet with Transnet on July 20 to discuss its grievances.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Palesa Phili said the chamber was concerned about the violent nature of the protest and condemned criminal or violent actions.

“The chamber maintains that negotiation is vital at this stage to reduce the damage and potential ripple effects this protest action can have on our economy, and urges the protesters to explore more peaceful means to address their grievances.

“It is important that immediate action is taken to reduce the negative impact on the local community and businesses,” Phili said.

“The Durban Chamber encourages law enforcement agencies to continue to ensure that they are visible, timely in their responses, decisive, and provide full coverage in the affected areas.

“This will assist in ensuring the safety and security of the affected vehicles and the local community.”

Phili said this would also minimise the effects of congestion and road closures on the flow of traffic, which could have a direct impact on many sectors of the local economy such as tourism, logistics and retail.

The Mercury