The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) is threatening to paralyse Transnet when its 21 000 members down tools today [10 Oct] over a wage dispute at the state-owned transport and logistics group.

In a move similar to one that threatened Eskom at a time when it was most vulnerable, this aristocracy of labour is holding the nation to ransom and the cumulative result will be disastrous. The question is: where is the urgency and intervention from cabinet and in particular from the minister Gordhan and his counterpart in the ministry of labour? Or are they simply willing prisoners of the labour unions in the government’s tripartite alliance?

Transnet has declared the strike illegal but the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) disputes this. While the Union’s secretary, Jack Mazibuko acknowledges the importance of Transnet to the country’s economy, he continues to put the comfortably employed first while untold millions suffer without employment – any without any prospect of a job.

The importance of Transnet to the nation’s economy cannot be underestimated and it cannot be held to ransom by unions who have little regard for the fate of the nation.

At the very least, all the unions taking part in the ongoing illegal and unprotected strike at Transnet should pay for any infrastructure damages that have and will continue to occur as a result of actions by their members.

It was reported on Thursday last week that striking Transnet workers in Durban and Richards Bay were blocking off roads and pouring cement in the middle of the road. Instead of reigning in its errant members, the unions have chosen to escalate the situation by issuing threats to paralyse Transnet.

In addition to posing a threat to infrastructure, the wildcat strike by Transnet workers poses a significant risk to export oriented industries in agriculture and mining. It has been reported that the berry industry has warned that the strike, and the subsequent declaration of a force de majure by Transnet, will put 30 000 jobs in the sector at risk and negatively impact its export revenue of R3 billion – this, at a time when the South African economy cannot afford any loss in productivity.

Adding to Transnet’s shoddy ability to service mining exports – in a time of commodities boom – Transnet workers and their unions have chosen to put yet another spanner in the works and are further threatening the earning potential of the mining sector.

Kumba Iron Ore has warned that its exports will take a major hit for as long as this unprotected and illegal strike continues. With the mining sector having generated significant income for the fiscus in 2021 – despite Transnet’s operational port failures – this additional illegal disruption in the rail and ports network will result in significant loss to the economy.

Transnet should stand its ground against and make it clear that any worker who has taken part in this illegal strike will not be paid for any of the days that they are absent from work. Failure to do so, will set a bad precedent and embolden unions that have shown gross disregard for the general health of the South African economy.

Moreover the sole shareholder of the massive integrated freight transport company, represented by the ministers responsible – Public Enterprises and Labour – should not be shamefully silent on this matter.

Is this another Eskom in the making?

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Ghaleb Cachalia MP

Ghaleb Cachalia MP is the DA Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises.

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