Petrol fears amid strike

Published Sep 9, 2013

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Johannesburg - There may be petrol in the pumps, but getting it into your car may be difficult, as thousands of workers in the motor industry, including petrol pump attendants, go on strike on Monday.

Motorists may be left stranded if the strike goes into full swing as the law prohibits them from filling up their cars themselves.

“Regrettably, employers took a very irresponsible stance by pulling back from the engagements which were intended to avert the strike,” general secretary of National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) Irvin Jim said on Saturday.

Employer organisations the Fuel Retailers Association and the Retail Motor Industry have been given notice of the strike.

“Employers were unhappy with Numsa’s decision to issue a 48-hour notice to strike,” he said.

The strike would see thousands of workers at fuel stations, components retailers, panelbeaters, car and spare parts dealers, fitment workshops, and dealerships down tools.

But fuel stations around the country appeared to be operating normally on Monday morning, with many pump attendants wearing plain clothes instead of their uniforms.

One attendant in Joburg, who did not want to be named – was dressed in his uniform as he said he had forgotten that the strike was planned to start on Monday.

“I’m afraid (of intimidation). I need to talk to my managers to go home and get clothes but I can’t afford to go home and come back,” he said.

He said he would join the strike on Monday as he said he earned R500 plus about R100 in tips a week which was not enough for his family. “I’ve got a family to feed and I need to take my four-year-old son to school,” he said.

He said he did not belong to a union but believed the strike would increase all workers’ wages. “But I’m worried about the strike – if the bosses say don’t come to work, it’s not easy to find another job,” he said.

Staff at a number of service stations in Cape Town and the Winelands were wearing casual clothing on Monday morning for fear of being attacked by strikers, and some garages had closed altogether.

“This is a matter of life or death. These guys don’t mess around, they will kill you,” said one petrol attendant as he was filling up a tank wearing casual clothing at a service station in the city centre .

He was not a member of Numsa, and asked not to be named.

However, Cape Town police reported that things were relatively calm.

Fuel stations around the Durban CBD appeared to be operating normally.

Isolated incidents of petrol stations being blocked off and unruly strikers were reported at the Petroport in Nandi Drive and the Engen garage in Alexander Road, Westmead.

Striking workers are expected to take to the streets in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.

Meanwhile, according to the Petroleum Products Amendment Act 2003, “self-service by consumers of prescribed petroleum products on the premises of a licensed retailer” is banned, meaning South Africa is not going to follow the international self-service trend.

“Our technology is also not up to speed with international self-service pumps,” said MC Lamprecht, chairman of the SA Petroleum Retailers Association. He said the strike wouldn’t affect supply or availability of fuel.

“However, consumers will inevitably, in certain areas at certain times, be inconvenienced.”

Lamprecht appealed to consumers to be patient as fuel stations were likely to employ contingency plans such as hiring casual labour.

The manager of a Total petrol station in Braamfontein said on Monday morning that while they were “hoping there was not going to be any picketing”, they had a back-up plan. “As management, we’ll take over the filling,” he said.

Numsa demanded a R30-an-hour pay increase across the board in all sectors by 2016 for workers earning less than R6 000, a night-shift allowance of 20 percent of the normal rate of pay, and an afternoon shift allowance of 15 percent.

Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said the industry had about 300 000 workers, of whom 70 000 were members of their union.

A petrol attendant earned about R700 a week, he said.

Numsa said striking workers at five of seven vehicle manufacturing plants would go back to work today.

The strike saw production lines at major vehicle manufacturers – that included Toyota, BMW and Nissan – shut down and production halted during the three-week strike.

Numsa’s demands

* A R30-an-hour pay increase across the board in all sectors by 2016 for workers earning less than R6 000.

* A night-shift allowance of 20 percent of the normal rate of pay.

* An afternoon shift allowance of 15 percent.

The Star with additional reporting by the Cape Argus and Daily News

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