“It is a big, complex industry, with 18,000 businesses in the bargaining unit. One can’t estimate the impact [a strike could have], on the first day,” RMI chief executive Jakkie Olivier said.
Petrol attendants and car repair workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) embarked on a nation-wide strike on Monday.
The union marched to RMI’s offices in Randburg at noon and handed over a memorandum of demands, including one for a double-digit percentage wage increase and the banning of labour brokers.
The employers’ latest offer is six percent across the board. “The industry just cannot afford to give in to those demands,” said Olivier.
He said the media reported mainly on the wage component of the union’s demands, but other aspects also had financial implications.
For example, workers wanted a reduction in working time, from 45 hours a week to 40 hours, without a cut in remuneration. “This amounts to an increase of about 18 percent in itself,” Olivier said.
On top of this were demands that the employers contribute 70 percent towards workers’ medical aid funds. Employers were already paying half, with workers paying the balance.
Olivier said the industry and unions agreed to picketing rules last Friday, which included a clause allowing employers to use casual labour while the strike lasted. The intention behind this was to allow the industry to continue with minimal disruption, as it was a key sector in the economy.
Numsa general secretary Irwin Jim said at the start of the Randburg march that all workers in the sector should join the strike, even if they were not Numsa members.
“If you are in this sector, you are protected to join this strike if you are a Numsa member or not,” he said. “If you go to work when we are not at work, it means you are undisciplined,” Jim said. “Run employers, run. Run amagundane [rats], run,” he said.
Jim said the strike would continue indefinitely, until the union’s demands were met. He said workers should not bear the brunt of economic problems.
“Bosses must appreciate we know the economy is in crisis. As workers, we will not pay for this crisis.”
The union has demanded, among other things, a R30 an hour across the board increase by 2016 on actual rates of pay in all sectors and divisions for workers earning above R6000 a month.
Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said workers’ demands should be understood within the context of rising living and transport costs. The Fuel Retailers’ Association and the RMI were given 48-hours notice of the strike.
A Sasol petrol station in Hill Street, Randburg, was deserted and cordoned off with tape. A few Numsa strikers stood on the forecourt watching the march progress.
“They are hiding, they are scared,” shouted a man, who was dressed in red Numsa attire.