Strike! We’re out!

Strike! We’re out!

It seems strike season is once again upon us. As with recent preceding industrial action, I fear that yet another strike could put South Africa out of the international game.

 

In South Africa, despite our problems – of which we have many – we have so much to smile about. I love this place and it deserves to flourish to its full, uninhibited potential. Although we still have a very long way to go, as a nation we have achieved so much in a very short period. Importantly, we’ve become a “theoretically” attractive destination for international investment – something that has the job-creation potential we so desperately need … With a few cost, legislative, administrative and efficiency tweaks here and there, no one could pass up the opportunity to set up shop in sunny South Africa.

It’s this job creation that puts smiles on people’s faces. So, why is it then that the citizens of this country routinely jeopardise their own and future employment opportunities? Surely in a country where one in four people are looking for work (our unemployment rate stood at 25,6 percent at the second quarter of the year) it only makes sense to hang on to what you have for as long as needed? I’m not saying people must stick themselves into dead-end jobs; just don’t do anything stupid …

Yes, strike season seems to be upon us once more. It is almost a year since truck drivers countrywide used “better pay” as an excuse to go on the most disgusting rampage (see Wheel Nut in the November 2012 edition of FOCUS). Now, workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are at it as well.

As I write this, 31 000 workers have been on strike for four days. Thankfully, it’s been quite peaceful compared to last year’s fiasco that was so embarrassing to our already scarred industry. The strikers are demanding a 14 percent increase (now down from 20 percent) as well as a monthly housing subsidy of R750 and a weekly transport allowance of R125.

Volkswagen, Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Ford, UD Trucks and MAN Truck & Bus have all been affected. All of these original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have manufacturing and assembly plants in South Africa that serve the local and/or international markets. They are also some of the best facilities in the world; the quality of vehicles coming out of them surpassing many other global plants belonging to these manufacturers.

The vast majority of 3 Series BMWs coming out of the company’s Rosslyn plant are built for world markets. Mercedes-Benz too builds the C-Class for export to America at its East London facility. Ford’s Ranger is built at its Silverton assembly plant for export to 148 of the 180 markets in which it’s sold, and the company’s five-cylinder diesel engine, as found in the Ranger, is built in Struandale for export to America.

The list goes on. Each OEM affected has a vested, critical interest in this country. They can’t afford to have strikes. Local industry also relies on them to supply many of the components used in the manufacturing process. These strikes, therefore, also affect countless other lives. When all these parties are affected, the country as a whole suffers – South Africa can’t afford to have strikes. Taking all this into account, this strike is expected to cost South Africa R700 million, a day.

As Charleen Clarke notes on page 2, it wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for the OEMs to move their facilities to more stable ground. As a country, we cannot afford to be set back like that. We need to attract investment, not chase it away.

If only government, the unions and the workers would consider the potential knock-on effects of these actions. Hopefully they will, before South Africa’s potential to flourish is prematurely nipped in the bud.

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