Strike Season 2012
||14 October 2012 07:00
Esté de Klerk
Chantal Rutter Dros
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
The often violent strikes of the past two months in the mining and transport sectors have seen as many as a hundred thousand workers on strike over the period and resulted in deaths, injuries and financial losses.
Unlike the ongoing labour unrest in the mining industry, not immediately felt by consumers, the truck drivers' strike, settled on Friday, was starting to have repercussions.
In Cape Town, many truck drivers trying to do their jobs were attacked.
Gary Stewart, a courier company employee, died in hospital this week after his truck was stoned.
In Johannesburg, fuel stations and shops began feeling the pinch.
And for small business owners like Islyn Knipe, the end of the strike couldn't have come soon enough. Otherwise shutting shop would've been her only option.
Islyn Knipe (Business owner): "I'm losing all the time and the longer the strike goes on the worse it gets."
Chantal Rutter Dros (Carte Blanche presenter): "How long have you been experiencing this period without petrol?"
Islyn: "Since Thursday last week. I will have to lay somebody off if it continues. They don't get paid; their families [doesn't] get food; food prices go up... I don't know where it is going to end."
Chantal: "Productivity is at its lowest in 40 years and, since the start of the trucker strike just over three weeks ago, the country has lost between 12 and 15 billion rand."
Loane Sharp (Labour economist): "Strikes are out of control in South Africa at the moment and the consequences for economic performance could not be more severe."
Labour economist Loane Sharp says there are long-term effects that need to be considered. Because of the truckers strike, fuel is likely to rise by 15% and food by 20% over the next year.
Loane: "The rand is at a three-and-half year low against the US dollar, which is itself very weak. Basically, our terms of trading with the rest of the world are [at] one of the lowest points in South African history. This has knock-on effects on food prices. We are going to feel it in the pocket - all of us."
Neren Rau (CEO: SACCI): "Unfortunately the consumer always bears the brunt. Strikers take to the streets without having a broader appreciation of the economic impact of their strikes."
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, Neren Rau, says finding funds to pay increased wages will impact on other sectors of the economy.
Neren: "Businesses no longer have the capacity to absorb these higher costs, so they have no choice but to pass it on to the consumer."
Otherwise it would be belly up for small businesses like this one [on screen], managed by Jo'burg-based transport specialist Johan Claassens, whose company has lost millions.
Johan Claassens (Managing director): "Your rent, electricity accounts, all needs to get paid. And unfortunately there is just no income. It is heartbreaking... that's all I can say."
Loane: "The four... five... six weeks of income lost during a strike takes three to four years to recove,r, based on the increase that you get. For employers it means lost production."
But Cosatu's national spokesperson, Patrick Craven says this argument doesn't hold.
Patrick Craven (Cosatu: National Spokesperson): "It is always misleading when there's a strike to talk about how much production has been lost because, of course, that can be made up. The gold is still lying underground. The goods that would be transported would still be transported, albeit later. And workers will not be intimidated by any arguments of that kind."
In the 24 years that Johan has been with this company, this is the first time workers have joined in a strike.
Johan: "Some of my people joined the union two years ago... and we end up having our first strike."
Loane: "As long as trade unions are the central agency bargaining on workers' behalf we will have this kind of occasional conflict."
Patrick: "Strikes aren't organised from an office, like here in Braamfontein, or there is somehow a strike season and we have a year planner which identifies the time. Strikes happen when workers become so angry and they insist that their union leaders take up their demand. And if they can't negotiate, they go on strike. And, in extreme cases, will go on strike anyway, regardless of what the union says."
Chantal: "It started in August at Lonmin mine in Marikana with a demand for wage increases. But soon it escalated into a crisis of more demands, more strikes, violence and intimidation."
Weeks of unrest at Lonmin's Marikana mine claimed the lives of 46 people. The strike ended with the desired pay rise for 28 000 workers and prompted a wave of wildcat strikes at other platinum, gold and iron ore mines in the country.
At Gold Fields KDC mine on the West Rand, the majority of the 15 000 miners downed tools. Gold Fields bosses are digging in their heels.
And at Gold Fields' Beatrix mine in the Free State, 9 000 workers are striking.
21 000 Miners embarked on a strike at the world's number one platinum producer Amplats, resulting in mass dismissals.
And strikes at the mines of Kumba Iron Ore and Harmony Gold resulted in their shares plummeting... a very different scenario to other strikes, post 1994.
Loane: "The uncurbed nature of our strikes this year is completely unprecedented in South African history. The strikes that we are seeing are seriously reducing the economy's long term growth potential. And, much more than that, just to put that into practical terms, it is reducing opportunities to emerge out of poverty."
Neren: "We are rapidly moving towards a point of irreversible damage. Even from international investors, international spectators, we have even seen the credit rating agencies react fairly strongly to what is going on in South Africa right now."
Loane: "I have been in conference calls with investors in New York. Every one of them is looking at withdrawing investments from our mining sector."
Patrick: "South Africa is still a very rich country, and particularly when we're talking about... especially when we're talking about the gold, the platinum and the coal. There will still be huge demands for these goods and if one investor pulls out, another one will step in in his place."
Loane: "To international investors who are critical suppliers to South Africa, it sends the worst possible message. It is so damaging to see no political leadership in the context of South Africa's biggest economic disaster in 20 years."
Chantal: "Lives have been lost, foreign investment confidence is down. We have to ask these questions: how did we reach this point and who is responsible?"
Loane: "The world economic forum rank SA as the 144th country in the world out of a hundred and forty-four countries - in other words, the worst country in the world in terms of our labour/employer conflict."
Patrick: "We are the most unequal society in the world. We have been talking for some time about the huge crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality. It's leaving ticking time bombs in our society and what is really now happening is that some of those bombs are starting to explode."
Take 42-year-old Andy Bruiners, who's been on strike for three weeks. He's been a truck driver for eight years and takes home R5 184 per month. He is demanding a 12% pay rise.
Chantal: "So, what would you like to get out of this?"
Andy Bruiners (Truck driver): "I would like to get an increase, because me, I really need it. Not just for myself, but when I think about the people at home, my children."
Chantal: "Are you prepared to see this out right until the end?"
Andy: "If I have to make a sacrifice, in order for me to get back the money, to look after my family... yes, I will do it."
At his home on the East Rand, time with his girlfriend and their children is precious - driving a truck demands long working hours and often sleeping on the road.
Andy: "Me, as the driver, I sleep in front of the truck. My two assistants must sleep at the back on boxes; they are not safe. People don't understand why people are striking. If they know why we are striking, they will understand what is going on."
Patrick: "The unrelated strike in the transport sector has continued partly because the workers have seen what has happened at the mines and are saying: 'Look, we are not going to settle for anything less than 12% we demanded.'"
Loane: "If we see this sector-wide disturbance spreading to other sectors, I think then we are very close to a State of Emergency, possibly within the next 12 months."
Patrick: "Business always say that when there are big strikes taking place, so it has to be taken with a pinch of salt."
Loane: "The number of unprotected strikes is increasing. Over the last couple of years we have double the number of work days lost due to strikes and stoppages. Labour peace is as elusive as it ever has been in South Africa."
Neren: "If we continue to see violence, if we continue to see illegal strikes, if we continue to see a spread of strike activity to the municipal environment and to other sectors of the economy, then we will very quickly pass a point of no return."
Analysts say perhaps it's wake up time for government if it wants to stabilise the economy and create five million new jobs by 2020.
Loane: "I don't think that government realises that it is playing with fire at the moment and that a State of Emergency is just one public service union away."
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.