Strike over racial pay differences will shut down Transnet ports - Satawu

If Thursday's strike goes ahead, it would have a devastating impact on the economy as the Transnet National Ports Authority controls and operates all eight commercial seaports along the country’s coastline.

FILE: Satawu members at a demonstration: Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said on Tuesday its members would shut down the country's ports on Thursday as part of a strike against salary discrepancies between black and white mariners.

Negotiations between the union and the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) collapsed this week.

If the strike goes ahead it would have a devastating impact on the economy as the ports authority controls and operates all eight commercial seaports along the country’s coastline.

In a statement, Satawu spokesperson Zanele Sabela said black staffers were being paid lower wages than their white counterparts and the state-owned company had failed to address the anomaly despite acknowledging its existence.

“Following the granting of the strike certificate, TNPA called on Satawu to put off the industrial action, saying it wanted to negotiate. The parties held two robust meetings but could not reach a satisfactory agreement despite the company admitting to pay discrepancies across all divisions," said Sabela.

She said Satawu then requested that a neutral third party be commissioned to conduct an investigation and make recommendations on how the matter should be resolved, "but management declined the request".

She said after consulting affected members, Satawu received a mandate to go on strike.

Marine services could be affected in the Richards Bay, Durban, East London and Saldanha Bay ports, among others.

“Workers who will be striking include pilots who bring the ships from the ocean into the port and vice versa; tug masters who assist pilots move the ships and chief marine engineers who maintain the ships and operate the engines. The mariners skills set is such that its withdrawal will result in a total shutdown at all ports,” Sabela said.

She said, on average, the mariners move three ships per two-hour interval.

"These vessels ferry goods worth millions of rand bringing the potential loss due to the strike action to billions of rand,” said Sabela.