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.
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