South Africa


Under-fire Transnet workers deserved better

Under-fire Transnet workers deserved better
Striking Transnet workers have been unfairly accused of “not putting South Africa’s interests first”. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Transnet’s workers are not the ones responsible for the mismanagement of the company, or for its capture by private interests, or for grand-scale corruption.

Public sentiment has been tough on striking Transnet workers. “Brutal” and “catastrophe” are examples of adjectives used in the media to describe the strike. There were strongly disapproving messages from business commentators and accusations that the workers could not “be trusted to put South Africa’s interests first”.

The strike, which started on 6 October, is all but over. The majority union, the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Untu), has reached a deal which will give workers a 6% wage increase for the current financial year, a 5.5% raise next year and 6% in 2024. The settlement also provides for increased medical schemes and housing benefits. The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), the minority union, is not satisfied with the agreement.

It’s a modest deal at best. The wage increase is lower than the current inflation rate of 7.6%. This means that the workers’ salaries are not even keeping up with the rising cost of living. Unless the inflation rate suddenly drops, Transnet workers will get poorer over the next three years. Meanwhile, mining companies, for whom Transnet plays a vital role, did well last year. Transnet’s workers may very well feel they did not share the windfall.

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Transnet has been mired in scandal. But Transnet’s workers are not the ones responsible for the mismanagement of the company, or for its capture by private interests, or for the fact that it’s a monopoly, or for grand-scale corruption at the state-owned enterprise. As for Untu, it seems to be a well-run union. It communicates well and it has stood firm against corruption in the Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa).

This was a protected strike, despite nonsense claims from Transnet to the contrary. The final settlement shows that Untu is a union fully aware of the current economic difficulties and the important role of Transnet.

We owe Untu and the Transnet workers a bit more understanding and even empathy. And when the next wage negotiations take place in three years’ time, we hope Transnet will be able to offer workers real increases. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    All South African citizens ‘deserve better’, but repeatedly voting the ANC/SACP into power carries consequences.

  • Ian Ashmole says:

    For sure the workers should feel aggrieved – for years Transnet, and especially TPT, which is essentially a monopoly (you can use road instead of rail, but you cannot get around the ports) has been forcing above inflation increases on their customers. In real terms, our Terminal Handling Charges at Richard’s Bay increased by an annualised 8.8%, while inflation averaged 5.4% over the same period. In hard currency terms, our cost increased by 73% from Euro 4.66 to Euro 8.07 per tonne! This making Richard’s Bay almost 30% more expensive than Antwerp! And while RB is only around 10% more expensive than Vittoria in Brasil, Vittoria achieves loading rates for our product of 10,000 tonnes per day – RB struggles to get to 2,000! Because vessel time costs money, this increases our sea freight costs out of South Africa such that we ship from Vittoria to Xiamen, China (almost twice the distance) for 26% less than from RB!

    And this is where I have little sympathy for the workers – because management is weak, the workers have been able to implement work procedures that are extremely unproductive – one of our surveys showed 11 workers vs 3 on international standards, but made worse by having 5 large equipment (engines running full time to maintain air conditioning even when stationary) vs a single unit. Our industry has lost 70% of export volume over 20 years as a result of logistics inefficiencies. This in a market that has increased by nearly 200%!

  • Ahmed M says:

    Why does group up get so much airtime on daily maverick.
    Quite clearly they are communist and socialist biased with no counterweight in this newspaper.
    Workers are apart of a company and are able to improve efficiency, profitability and make a business self sustaining. Not sure why they are treated differently

  • Sam Spade says:

    Goodness, cry me a river! Of course, we all deserve a cost of living increase, but the last three years have wrecked havoc on the world economy and unions cannot expect conventional increases in abnormal times. It’s called austerity. Sometimes it’s necessary to grin and bear it through hard times instead of stamping your feet and crying foul, the world is in a terrible place right now and union bosses should be more realistic. As a contract worker I have lost more than half my clients and not had an increase in three years, but one makes do and looks for business elsewhere. Besides, Transnet is a bloated and grossly underperforming organization, where are these increases meant to come from?

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