Grave concern as 6 000 auto workers strike


REPUTATION and millions of rands are at stake for the Eastern Cape as South Africa braces for the start today of an auto industry strike over wages.

Business leaders and carmakers expect the toll from the stayaway to have a “devastating effect”.

Some 6000 workers in the province are scheduled to down tools today, joining 25000 other National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members countrywide.

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Border-Kei Chamber of Business director Les Holbrook said the strike would have a massive impact on business.

Not only would vehicle manufacturers feel the pinch, but so would their suppliers, said Holbrook.

“We believe that the unions are not only fighting about the percentage [increase] but about their position in the labour market.

“The labour market has not been the same since Marikana. With this strike, millions of rands will be lost every day. It also sends poor signals to investors,” Holbrook said.

The sentiment was echoed by Thapelo Molapo, chairman of the Automobile Manufacturers’ Employers’ Organisation, which represents carmakers at the bargaining council.

“The biggest issue is a loss of reputation which takes a long time to recover,” Molapo said.

Independent economist Mike Schussler said although it was too early to tell, hundreds of thousands of rands could be lost daily during the strike.

He too said the major concern was the damage to the country’s reputation world-wide due to its propensity to strike.

“Numsa is a problem. The workers receive a lot of subsidies and are competing around the world. They are among the highest paid workers in the industry,” he said.

The result is added pressure from manufacturers to shut down factories in South Africa, he said.

The strike will hit major car manufacturers across the country, including East London’s Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) plant, which employs close to 1700 blue- collar workers.

This will be only the second strike at MBSA in 25 years, following an unprotected strike in May.

A notice to strike was served last week on MBSA at the same time negotiations began.

Numsa wants a 14% salary increase, while the sector is offering a 10% raise, plus R1.07 an hour for the first year‚ and then inflation-related increases, plus a further R1.07 an hour for each of the following two years.

“We are available to negotiate with them,” said Numsa’s national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo.

“Workers are expected to assemble at their plants as early as six in the morning, but we are not expecting them to touch any work.”

MBSA declined to comment on the potential effects of the strike.

Elsewhere in the province, 3000 workers from the Uitenhage-based Volkswagen SA and close to 2000 General Motors SA workers will also be on strike today.

Last Wednesday, 2000 workers at BMW’s plant near Pretoria went on a separate strike. — Additional reporting by Reuters


  1. Here we go again. The day MB closes it’s doors and moves elsewhere (Berkshire and others) these fools will cry in the gutter. Nothing is solved with strikes and resolution is the only way forward.There are Eastern European countries waiting in the wings with cheaper and stable labour. Beware NUM,soon you may have nothing to strike about !

  2. The last time they actually went on strike it was clear to all the type of animals MBSA employed.Parts of the factory were set alight and the intimidation was disgusting.It was a very bad time for MBSA & El. It is believed that only the pleading of Nelson Mandela prevented MBSA from closing down the factory and moving out of SA. Don`t push your luck you overpaid , lazy, good for nothing `workers`. You will kill the goose that lays the golden egg and many thousands will on the streets of EL to watch MBSA doors close.Your families don`t deserve this but you certainly do. Put your pride in your pocket and do the correct thing.

  3. What these workers do not realize is that the total production of motor vehicles in East London is probably only a small percentage of the worlds production, so the other factories in other countries can easily provide additional vehicles and then they can close the factories in The Eastern Cape.
    Then these workers will add to the percentage of unemployed.

  4. Remember investors will go with the path of least resistance. We need international investment to help our unemployment rate , you are chasing international investors away. I am quite sure that MBSA pay a living wage ! Cross the bridge guys , I am sure there are plenty people that willingly will work for your salaries and benefits !

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