Business Maverick

Transnet suspends employees over wildcat port go-slow, sets up ‘command centre’

By Ed Stoddard 11 July 2019

Illustrative image: Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

State-run logistics company Transnet has suspended several employees for taking part in a protracted and unprotected ‘go-slow’ which has severely impacted operations at the Ngqura Container Terminal in the Eastern Cape, hitting auto manufacturing and citrus exports, among others. It remains to be seen if this will quell the disruption or trigger unrest against the backdrop of reports of intimidation on the shop floor.

Transnet said on Thursday 11 July that it had taken action to quell an unfolding mutiny that has disrupted port activity at its Ngqura Container Terminal.

In a statement sent to Business Maverick, the SOE said it had “… suspended a number of employees at its Ngqura Container Terminal for engaging in an illegal industrial action which has had a negative impact on port operations. The illegal industrial action, which is being carried out by employees, is having a negative impact on all customers serviced by the port, particularly the citrus and automotive customers.”

Transnet also said it had established a “daily command centre manned by national and local leadership to closely monitor performance”, in the wake of the action, which has spread beyond the Eastern Cape.

Operations at the Durban Container Terminal have also been affected by equipment failure and high-level absenteeism. Furthermore, the decline in performance levels at the Cape Town Container Terminal has been noted,” Transnet said.

The company also provided some detail, albeit scant, for the first time about the nature of the dispute, which has been rumbling for some time and was first reported several days ago in the industry online news site Freight and Trading Weekly (FTW).

Amongst a list of demands, workers are demanding an incentive,” it said. FTW reported last week that the dispute stemmed from the alleged non-payment of bonuses.

Zanele Sabela, spokesperson for the Cosatu-aligned Satawu trade union, told Business Maverick that the go-slow had not been sanctioned by the union and that its members were not involved.

Another union source said there were reports of widespread intimidation to get workers to “go slow” but it remained unclear who was behind the action.

If intimidation has been used, there is the potential that Transnet’s move could trigger further unrest. Similar scenarios have unfolded before in South Africa’s often turbulent labour environment.

The go-slow has already taken a bite out of the crucial auto-making sector. Volkswagen South Africa spokesperson Andile Dlamini told Business Maverick that on Wednesday 10 July it lost 400 production units because it cannot get the imported parts it needs. That is well over half of its average production of 680 units per day. He was unable to be reached immediately on Thursday for an update. DM

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