Strike at Toyota as Sth Africa mine unrest spreads

People walk near Toyota's Durban factory, which has been forced to shut down for four days due to an illegal pay strike by employees. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
People walk near Toyota's Durban factory, which has been forced to shut down for four days due to an illegal pay strike by employees. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Toyota Motor Corp said it had been forced to shut its Durban vehicle plant for four days because of an illegal pay strike, indicating that South Africa's manufacturing sector may not be spared the wildcat stoppages sweeping its mines.

The Japanese car giant said it had settled the dispute on Thursday and expected a return to work on Friday, but declined to say what pay rise had been agreed. Production of nearly 2,500 vehicles was lost from the plant, half of whose output goes to export.

Elsewhere, Kumba Iron Ore, one of the world's top 10 producers, said it had suspended production at its huge Sishen mine after striking employees blocked access to the pit.

After two months of labour unrest, as many as 75,000 miners, or 15 percent of the sector's workforce, are out on strike, burdening already sluggish growth only three months before an internal leadership election in the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

President Jacob Zuma is favourite to win re-election, teeing him up for a second five-year term as South African president in 2014, but labour unrest strengthens the hand of those who say he is unfit to run a sophisticated emerging economy.

A truckers' stoppage is also squeezing fuel suppliers, who are having to use police convoys to prevent drivers being attacked by gangs trying to enforce a blockade that is putting some petrol stations at risk of running dry.

The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), closely allied with the ANC but losing influence to more radical independent unions, said it was in talks with the mining industry to try to stem the wave of unsanctioned strikes.

"This, we hope, will save collective bargaining, save the industrial relations in the country while at the same time bringing workers and their demands on board," COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.

Violence is also intensifying in the platinum mines, the heart of the labour rebellion since police shot dead 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana mine on Aug. 16, the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.

PLATINUM VIOLENCE SPREADING

Overnight, suspected wildcat strikers burnt down two conveyors and a training centre at a mine owned by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) near Rustenburg, 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, police said.

Domestic media also reported that strikers were marching at Amplats's Amandelbult operations, around 100 km north of Rustenburg, although it was not clear how production was affected and the company declined immediate comment.

The mines in that section of the "platinum belt" have so far avoided the unrest that has centred around Rustenburg, where a six-week illegal stoppage at Marikana secured a hefty wage rise of up to 22 percent.

Zuma is under fire for failing to contain the rolling protests, which intensified after the "Marikana massacre".

Furthermore, the killings revived painful memories of apartheid-era killings by the security forces and fuelled debate about the glaring wealth inequalities that remain, nearly two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

"You are going to see quite a lot more of these wildcat strikes," said Chris Hart, chief strategist at asset managers Investment Solutions.

"Despite there being a whole lot of issues which are separate and distinct from Marikana, there is a sense that if you go on the rampage outside the collective bargaining system you get more benefits."

Fallout from the unrest in the mines, which account for 6 percent of GDP, has put pressure on the rand, which has fallen to near three-year lows against the dollar.

It has also fuelled concern about growth, forecast by the government at 2.7 percent.

Manufacturing makes up 15 percent of South Africa's output, and widespread factory walkouts could have dramatic implications for the economy, especially with exports already suffering from economic woes in Europe, their main destination.

Major bullion producers AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields have also been hit by strikes.

Kumba Iron Ore, a unit of Anglo American, said it had sufficient stockpiles and output from other mines to supply customers for "some time". The suspended Sishen mine produced nearly 40 million tonnes of iron ore in 2011.

 

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