JOHANNESBURG— Thousands of auto service workers in South Africa have launched a strike to demand higher wages. Their strike dovetails with another by auto manufacturing workers, who returned to work Monday. This new strike will hit many South Africans much more directly since the striking workers include fuel station attendants.
The end of one strike in South Africa became the beginning of another on Monday.
Workers in the auto services industry, including fuel station attendants, car dealers, and the makers and retailers of spare parts walked off their jobs. The workers are demanding wage hikes of $3 for hourly workers and a double-digit percentage increase for those on salary.
The strike follows another among workers in South Africa's major car-assembling companies, who went on strike three weeks ago demanding better wages.
The union representing these workers, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, NUMSA, announced the end of this strike on Sunday, saying the employers have given the workers a 30 percent salary increase spread over three years.
NUMSA’s General Secretary Irvin Jim broke the news to the media at a press briefing on Sunday.
“Out of seven companies, five companies who are on strike have accepted the offer, as a result the NEC have taken a decision, to announce the end of the strike and workers should resume work on Monday,” said Jim.
The union however, immediately declared the beginning of another strike in the auto service industry, involving up to 300,000 workers.
NUMSA Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete said the employers were to blame for the new strike, accusing them of refusing to come to the negotiating table.
“The motor industry employers are very reckless,” said Cloete. “We have a package proposal for an industry settlement and they failed to talk to us. So we want the public to understand that we are dealing with employers that have not moved beyond the apartheid period in terms of the labor market and how we are supposed to deal with it.”
Thousands of auto service industry workers in Johannesburg heeded the call on Monday and marched to the head offices of their employers
Prince Ramashia, a storekeeper at Safeline Brakes Company, led the marching workers in song and dance.
Ramashia said after working for nine years in the company, he earns $400 a month and struggles to provide for his family.
“What we want is that at least the minimum entry must be 6,000 rand per month, which is a small thing just because for now most of us are earning less than 4,000 rands,” said Ramashia. “And then if you can see that I’m a grown up person, then how can I live with that 4,000 rands per month?”
Two women working as fuel attendants at a service station in Johannesburg shouted their demands.
“Money talks, money talks, we can’t wait to talk money! We can’t wait, we are tired, we need money!”
The involvement of the fuel station attendants in the strikes threatens to cripple the transport industry. However, Reggie Sibiya, chief executive officer of the Fuel Retailers Association, said measures have been put in place to lessen the impact of the strike but he asked the public for patience.
South Africa is in the middle of the so-called strike season, where workers in various sectors of the economy announce their demands for wage hikes.