Crunch time in strike negotiations

THE livelihood of both strikers and employers depends on the success of negotiations planned for today, the third day of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) strike in the component, fuel and retail motor sectors.

Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber president Mandla Madwara said that in the Eastern Cape, especially, the component industry was "bleeding more than the vehicle manufacturers".

Workers in the vehicle manufacturing industry returned to work on Monday after a three-week strike. "One hopes this strike will be resolved a lot faster than the motor industry one. Component manufacturers have a tight cash flow and have already been affected by the lack of production at the vehicle manufacturers the past three weeks.

"The chamber calls on all the parties concerned to be reasonable and come to a solution as quickly as possible. As a motor manufacturing city, our local economy cannot afford the knock-on effect," Madwara said.

Motor Industry Bargaining Council general secretary Tom Mkhwanazi said he was "hopeful" today's negotiations between the bargaining council (which represents employers and employees), the Retail Motor Industry organisation (RMI), the Fuel Retailers' Association (FRA) and Numsa would be successful in bringing an end to the strike.

National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (Naacam) executive director Robert Houdet raised concerns over the availability of Just in Time (JIT) components for vehicle manufacturers in the Eastern Cape.

"The component manufacturers have built up stock for at least two weeks but the JIT components, for example car seats which are manufactured specifically for individuals' vehicles, could be affected within only a few days. The cost of the strike has been very high – investors from overseas will think twice before investing in South Africa.

"The harm has already been done to the vehicle manufacturers, component manufacturers, workers and the country."

Houdet said to honour export contracts, component manufacturers would incur additional costs once the strike was over to send parts via air freight because of the time delay if they were sent by sea.

General Motors Africa communications manager Denise van Huyssteen said production had resumed at the Port Elizabeth GM plant due to a stockpile of certain components.

"The strike in the component industry needs to be resolved urgently because of the ripple impact it will have," Van Huyssteen said. "When the component supply runs out, short time will have to be implemented at the factory."

Volkswagen Group SA communications manager Matt Gennrich said contingency plans were in place at the Uitenhage car manufacturer.

Mercedes-Benz SA yesterday halted production as the component manufacturers' strike threw a spanner in the works. MBSA spokeswoman Lynette Skriker said production had to stop after one shift when the company ran out of some supplies for its C-Class models manufactured in East London.

Elsewhere in the country, sporadic intimidation and attacks on non-striking petrol attendants had been reported.