Striking South Africa truck drivers hold new wage talks

Reuters News

10/9/2012 4:46:42 AM - Reuters News

By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's transport union SATAWU and employers held wage talks on Tuesday trying to end a two-week-old truck driver strike that has hampered deliveries of fuel, cash and consumer goods in the continent's biggest economy.

The truckers have asked for sympathy strikes by port and rail workers. If paralysis spreads in the transport sector, it would be a further deterioration in investor sentiment that has pushed the rand to 3-1/2 year lows against the dollar.

Large parts of the mining sector have been brought to a standstill in the last two months by wildcat labor unrest by more than 75,000 miners - about 15 percent of its work force.

Almost 50 people have been killed in the current labor strife - 34 of them by shot dead by police on August 16 in the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.

President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress has been criticized for letting the strikes spiral. Moody's ratings agency downgraded South African government bonds a notch last month, saying ineffectual governance was posing long term economic risk.

More than 20,000 striking truck drivers have taken to the streets in often violent protests, demanding annual wage increases of 12 percent for two years - more than double the inflation rate. Employers have offered a total 18 percent pay rise over that same period.

"We are willing to compromise on our demands, but only as long as the employers do the same," said Vincent Masoga, spokesman for the South African Transport & Allied Workers' Union.

An employer's body said last week the freight industry was losing around 1.2 billion rand ($135 million) in turnover each week due to the strike.

Affected companies include logistics groups Imperial Holding, Super Group, Grindrod, Barloworld and Bidvest. If the protests expand to rail and ports, they would hit exports of coal and other minerals.

The mining strikes look set to knock already shaky economic growth in the world's top platinum-producing state. South Africa is also a major supplier of gold, coal and iron ore.

Local media reports suggested the truckers strike was also having adverse effects on Zimbabwe, which receives a steady supply of goods over road from its larger neighbor.

On Monday, a local government workers' union said it also planned a protest in the next few days in a first sign of the labor unrest spreading into the public sector. ($1 = 8.8828 South African rand)

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Jon Herskovitz)