Strikes, fires and fuel hikes in South Africa

March of South African Municipal Workers Union in Johannesburg protesting over non-payment of pay increases

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the Western Cape notes recent developments affecting the Taxi Industry in Cape Town and the statement of SANTACO Western Cape resolving that no taxis will be operating with immediate effect across the Western Cape until Wednesday.

SANTACO is claiming that this action is in protest at the impounding of taxi vehicles by the City of Cape Town.
The Federation appeals to all parties to engage urgently to resolve the impasse within the parameters of the law, saying: ‘We are calling for peace and that all parties must refrain from any violence. Traffic officers, taxi drivers and commuters are all workers and no blood should be shed by anyone.
‘All workers simply want to earn their salaries so they can take care of their families. These matters can and must be resolved by the parties at the negotiating table. Workers should not be made the casualties of this impasse.
‘The Taxi Industry should be formalised as a matter of urgently and we support this critical industry which is the backbone of our public transport system.
‘Taxi drivers are workers and their right to earn a living wage and to enjoy their labour rights must be respected.
‘There is an urgent need to have a discussion on how we can formalise and support this critical industry.
‘The rule of law must be respected and upheld by all parties because commuters and workers depend upon the taxi industry and must be allowed to go to work, schools, and shops safely.
‘COSATU will continue to engage the City, Police and the Taxi Industry to support an urgent and peaceful resolution this matter.
‘COSATU in Gauteng extends its deepest condolences to the families affected by the recent tragic shack fire incidents in the City of Johannesburg. The loss of lives in these fires is heart-wrenching.
‘The first fire incident was reported in Orange Farm around 1am on Thursday where a male adult lost his life when his backroom shack caught fire. The second shack fire incident happened around 3am on Thursday in Matholesville, Roodepoort, where a family of three, which included two adults and one child – lost their lives when their shack caught fire.
‘It is evident that poverty and lack of services and access to proper housing remains a challenge. The cold weather conditions, the continuous loadshedding and extremely low temperature exposes people to the risk of fire as they struggle to keep warm.
‘COSATU in the province calls on the provincial government and other relevant authorities to address issues relating to the triple challenges in the province.
‘The Department of Human Settlements together with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure need to focus on the wellbeing and welfare of the citizens.
‘COSATU Gauteng emphasises the importance of providing adequate housing and proper heating facilities to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents, especially during extreme weather conditions. Sustained action is required to protect vulnerable communities from such tragedies.
‘We call on the communities to be vigilant and cautious around the heating and lighting tools and not to leave them unattended as this remains a huge risk.
Workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) have downed tools in what the city of Tshwane has claimed is an illegal strike.’
The council workers downed tools last week to protest over various issues, including the non-payment of salary increases.
Workers are demanding 3.5 per cent and 5.4 per cent salary increases, an amount that Brink says the city cannot afford.
Brink has already indicated that the city’s dire financial state means it cannot afford to pay any salary increases to municipal workers.
Attacking the strike, Brink claimed: ‘The City of Tshwane is under assault by unprotected strike action, the use of violence and intimidation. We are seeing the disruption of services, the delay in attending to water and electricity outages, and waste collection is affected.
‘And even our most vulnerable residents are being targeted.
‘SAMWU workers think that by using violence and intimidation the city can be brought to the negotiating tables to agree to salary increases which we explained we can’t afford them.’
Meanwhile, City Manager Johann Mettler threatened there would be consequences for workers who insist on a strike despite a court interdict.
Mettler said: ‘Last week I issued three ultimatums to the employees who are engaging in an illegal and unprotected strike to cease the strike action and return to work immediately.
‘Subsequent to that, I approached the labour court on an urgent basis to interdict the strike, the court ruled in my favour by declaring the strike illegal and unprotected.
‘All my efforts to end the strike were disregarded and the continuous strike action is in contempt of the interdict,’ said Mettler.
He added: ‘I have therefore taken a decision to identify all those that have participated in this illegal strike and who stand to be at risk of being dismissed.
‘I have also taken a decision to release all non-essential staff from work due to intimidation and victimisation by striking workers.’
Trade union federation FEDUSA says focus should be placed on the restructuring of the fuel levy to lessen the burden on motorists and households.
FEDUSA made this comment on Tuesday as fuel price increases were announced for August on Monday, showing a 37 cents per litre increase for petrol and 72 cents per litre increase for diesel, while illuminating paraffin – which FEDUSA said ‘lights up and provides heat in the homes of the poorest in our communities’ – will increase by 71 cents per litre.
The Automobile Association said in May 2023, the total cost of the two main levies paid for fuel stood at 6.14 rands (3.96 rands for the general fuel levy and 2.18 rands for the Road Accident Fund levy, which is levied on every litre of fuel sold in the country. The general fuel levy for diesel is 3.70 rands a litre.
The general fuel levy is used to fund general government expenditure programmes.
FEDUSA said the fuel price increases came at a time when the average South African worker can barely keep up with high inflation, VAT and other services costs such as electricity and rates.
FEDUSA said the reasons stated by mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe for the increases may primarily be external factors such as the prices of crude oil and the rand/dollar exchange rate. The trade union federation said this did not mean government should simply step aside, leaving citizens to take the blow.
FEDUSA said: ‘Enough time has passed for the sixth administration to have devised a socioeconomic plan to deal with the price of fuel due to its far-reaching implications on the broader cost of living.
‘Food prices, which research by various bodies has proven have skyrocketed over the years, will also be adjusted by retailers, leaving many households in distress. Salaries have been shrinking for years, with workers forced to take up what is now popularly referred to as ‘‘side gigs’’ just to survive,’ FEDUSA said.
It said workers were also being strangled by the ever-increasing interest rates, making borrowing even more expensive on every front including home loans.
It said the latest Altron Fintech Household Resilience Index, as quoted by BankServAfrica in its most recent Take Home Pay Index, showed South African households were now worse off than before Covid-19 with household financial resilience declining by 2.4%.
‘Yet, the government has in the face of this failed to recognise the need for a concerted effort to grow the economy while prioritising the needs of the people,’ said FEDUSA.
Mettler also claimed recently that he told both IMATU and SAMWU at a meeting that the city was unable to pay the salary and wage increases due to its liquidity challenges.
‘The City made it abundantly clear that it was unable to implement the salary and wage increases as it was unaffordable to do so and was in the process of filing an application for exemption to pay the increases,’ Mettler said.

  • The South African Medical Association Trade Union (SAMATU) is warning about the mass departure of experienced doctors if the Limpopo department of health does not attend to their grievances about changes made to their working conditions.

SAMATU’s provincial treasurer Dr Rebone Nemaungane says the department waited until the last minute to give them contracts that are based on a ‘shift system’ and could lead to them getting paid less whenever their work shifts are reduced.
She says doctors depend on overtime pay because they consider their basic salary to be low compared to the salaries of doctors in countries whose GDP is similar to South Africa’s.
Speaking on Thursday, Nemaungane said the morale among doctors in the province is low and she fears that experienced doctors will leave Limpopo for greener pastures.
The department’s acting Head of Department Dr Mutheiwana Dombo insinuated doctors should understand there are differences between salaries, allowances, benefits and overtime pay.
Dombo claimed the perception that they are cutting salaries is ‘not true’, adding that working arrangements have been reviewed and they purportedly did meet to discuss those changes with the doctors’ unions.