Angry trade unionists have vowed to block General Motors (GM) from unloading its remaining stocks of vehicles on to the SA market, following the car giant’s announcement yesterday that it is pulling out of the country.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said it will “make up a campaign to prevent them from dumping” unsold inventory here, “in light of the fact that they are disinvesting in the country”.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim expressed concern that GM had already indicated it might retrench workers. If these discussions are taking place it is likely that GM already knows how many employees will be retrenched, he said.
“This is the second time GM is pulling out of SA and as Numsa we smell a rat. We suspect the shareholders got a very good deal at the expense of the workers.”
He accused the company of acting unilaterally without consulting unions or employees and said Numsa was taking legal advice. The future of thousands of workers at General Motors South Africa hangs in the balance after the carmaker broke the news to employees and the unions at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium yesterday morning.
At the time of the announcement, the company had already shut down its plant, prompting fears that the company’s withdrawal could lead to large-scale job losses and cripple the Port Elizabeth economy.
The Citizen has reliably learnt that baffled workers were bused to the venue for the announcement and told not to return to work until Monday.
GM’s decision means that production and sales of all Chevrolet models will cease, and Isuzu Motors will take over the firm’s operations in Port Elizabeth. GM will stop selling Chevrolet vehicles locally by the end of the year.
Isuzu Motors will, subject to competition regulatory approval, purchase GMSA’s light commercial division and the Struandale manufacturing plant, as well as their minority shareholding in Isuzu Truck South Africa. Isuzu will continue manufacturing the Isuzu KB and medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks in Port Elizabeth.
GMSA employs more than 1 000 workers, of which 500 are based in the Chevrolet division. The vast majority are members of Numsa. GMSA president and MD Ian Nicholls said: “These decisions were not made lightly. We will manage the transition as smoothly as possible.”
The company made it clear the decision had been made “based entirely on GM’s global business priorities” and that the withdrawal from SA was “not related to the policies of any government”.
US President Donald Trump this year pressurised all US business with factories outside the country to “bring the jobs back home”. It also follows SA’s recent downgrade by ratings agencies. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies expressed concern for the employees whose jobs would be on the line as a result.
GM’s departure was not surprising, considering it had failed to meet the minimum production volume of 50 000 units required by the government’s Automotive Production and Development Programme since 2013, he said.
“Sales have been on a downward trend for the past five years, and exports remained low at about 2 000 vehicles per annum.”
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber deputy president MC Botha said: “We welcome the news that the new Isuzu business model intends to have continued manufacturing in Nelson Mandela Bay. The chamber hopes all efforts will be made to ensure that the Isuzu acquisition of the GMSA operations will have minimal impact on the local economy in terms of the knock-on effect on suppliers and employment in the region.”
Haruyasu Tanishige, senior executive officer for the sales division of Isuzu Motors, emphasised that the company was committed to the South African market.
“The integration of our light commercial and medium- and heavy-duty commercial business will strengthen our base to grow here. “Isuzu is building a strong base to grow on the African continent in the long term.”
GM’s Nicholls said the company informed employees and unions yesterday morning and will begin the formal consultation process with them “immediately”.
“We have established support centres for employees and have undertaken to work closely with affected dealers on a transition plan,” Nicholls said.