All ship-shape despite strike

IT is business as usual at the Ngqura Harbour, despite a strike by terminal workers entering its fifth week yesterday. Transnet Port Terminals Eastern Cape general manager Siya Mhlaluka said the strike by National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members involved only a few more than 100 terminal employees out of a total personnel of 600.

"This is not a significant number and our operations are going on. No trucks are queuing outside, there is free flow in and out of the harbour. There is no backlog in rail or our vessel turnaround time," Mhlaluka said.

He attributed the continuity in operations at the port to stringent contingency plans, which involved "rearranging resources such as equipment and people" from the sister divisions at the harbours in the other provinces.

Mhlaluka said the Ngqura Harbour was a flagship for the country, citing a recent R1.1-billion investment into the harbour that created an additional 150 jobs, across operations and technical departments, with a third berth which will become operational soon.

The group of Numsa workers who were sitting outside the security entrance to the port yesterday were drinking cool drinks, chatting and some were listening to the radio in their cars. They are striking, among other things, because they do not want labour brokers and want equal transportation costs.

Numsa regional secretary Phumzile Nodongwe said the union would meet with TPT today, after management responded to Numsa's memorandum last week.

"Our members at the Port of Port Elizabeth are willing to assist us with a secondary strike in support of the Ngqura workers should we not come to an agreement about the contents of the memorandum. We have about 100 members at the Port of Port Elizabeth and at Ngqura we have about 400 members but Transnet refuses to accept their membership," Nodongwe said.

Mhlaluka said the striking workers – who are striking on a no work, no pay basis – remained a concern for the TPT management, particularly following the reported cases of intimidation and threats of violence.

"Our greatest concern is the safety of the workers who are not taking part in the strike. They are safe when they are at work due to the controlled entrance to the port and security services.

"When employees are not at work we rely on the police, crime intelligence and Transnet Security to have visible policing and conduct visits to the homes of the employees," Mhlaluka said.

Although no recent reports of violence had been reported, when the strike started some non-striking workers' homes were petrol-bombed and stoned.

He said the three issues raised by the strikers were actually "no reason to strike" as they were being dealt with by the two unions recognised by Transnet, SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) and United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu). Numsa's percentage of members across the country is too small to recognise it as a union as it needs 30% of the workforce nationally.

However, Mhlaluka said the TPT management was considering meeting with the union in the near future to negotiate with them.

On the issue of labour brokers, Mhlaluka said Transnet had already started phasing out labour brokers and that by the end of this week there would be no more labour brokers at Ngqura TPT. He said TPT management also felt that the issue of transportation was being dealt with in a fair manner since workers paid between R100 and R417 per month for a door-to-door transport service from their homes in Nelson Mandela Bay to the harbour. TPT pays between 60 and 80% of the cost. - Cindy Preller