Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said the union was involved in talks with tyre manufacturers last week. File picture: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - Workers in the new tyre-manufacturing sector appear to be on the brink of going on strike.

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), said the union was involved in talks with tyre manufacturers last week and had demanded a certificate of non-resolution from the commissioner who facilitated the negotiations.

Jim said this was refused and the commissioner advised the parties to spend the next two weeks discussing how they could resolve the dispute. “We will do everything to try and find a settlement but if employers are not prepared to move, we are bound to strike.”

Nobuzwe Mangcu, the managing executive of the SA Tyre Manufacturing Conference (SATMC), said yesterday she was unable to provide comment on the negotiations.

A strike in either the tyre manufacturing sector or by workers in the automotive component manufacturing sector has the potential to halt production by vehicle manufacturers. Negotiations have been taking place this week between Numsa and the Retail Motor Industry Organisation.

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Arno van der Merwe, the chief executive and executive director manufacturing at Mercedes Benz SA (MBSA), said its East London plant was supplied locally by Continental and Bridgestone with some tyre derivatives, with the balance of the option codes being imported tyres.

Van der Merwe said any strike action in the manufacturing industry should be viewed as extremely critical.

He said the last-quarter growth figures provided hope for recovery from a very weak first quarter and could contribute to South Africa avoiding a credit downgrading.

But Van der Merwe said any action that further damaged this fragile economic state would “have long-term consequences and parties are urged to carefully consider this in their deliberations”.

“The nature of the supply chain does provide for some contingency (at MBSA) but extended strike action will impact on production continuity in the mid-term,” he said.

High demand

Nico Vermeulen, the director of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa), said the unions very were aware that vehicle production lines had to keep running to continue supplying highly demanding international markets. “The reality is that more than 60 percent of the vehicles produced in South Africa are destined for more than 100 markets globally and the seriously negative consequences of any strike action on the reputation of the industry as a reliable supplier to international markets.”

Matt Gennrich, a Volkswagen SA (VWSA) spokesman, stressed a strike was not certain and could be avoided, adding VWSA was largely unaffected by the tyre-sector strike three years ago.

Lynette Kamineth, a BMW South Africa spokesperson, said they had two local suppliers and would monitor the progress of negotiations and apply contingency planning should the tyre industry fail to avert an extended strike.