South Africa strike halts rail and port operations

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Intermodal News  International Trade  Ports & Terminals  Logistics  

Thousands of South African transport workers on an indefinite national strike paralysed rail and port operations in Africa’s biggest economy, but its impact has been muted due to inventories at mines and ports.
The strike at state logistics group Transnet is the latest in a series of protests ahead of next month’s World Cup soccer tournament in the country.
A prolonged strike could affect imports, internal fuel supplies and exports of fresh fruit, grains, ferrochrome, iron ore and coal. South Africa is one of the world’s biggest coal exporters, mainly to power stations in Europe and Asia.
A train transporting fuel from Durban on the east coast to the inland market derailed early on Wednesday in an incident which Transnet said was “sabotage”. No one was injured, but the line will be shut until midnight.
“Nothing is moving today,” George Strauss, president of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu), told Reuters.
Transnet has given no indication of any further talks with unions to resolve the dispute.
Transnet operates no passenger services, but commuter lines were affected in provinces where the country’s passenger rail agency relies on Transnet staff for its operations.
Two unions representing 85 percent of Transnet’s 54,000 workers have rejected a pay offer of 11 percent and want a 15 percent rise—well above the inflation rate of 5.1 percent.
The other union, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), said workers would organise marches in Johannesburg, Durban and Polokwane from Wednesday.
Thirteen people were arrested in Durban after a protest turned violent on Monday.
Stockpiles
Transnet, and commodities and fuel producers have said they will be able to supply customers for days due to stocks at ports.
Fuel producers, including BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Engen and Chevron, said they have not yet been hit, but the South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) said some impact was expected from Thursday.
Kumba Iron Ore, a unit of Anglo American, said it was “severely impacted” by the strike, which has limited its ability to use the railways to send iron ore destined for export to Saldanha Bay.
ArcelorMittal’s South African unit said it was using stocks for now as delivery of iron ore had been hit.
Coal producers said they may be forced to curtail production if the strike is prolonged and their depots at mines fill up.
“Once we become too full, we will have to start cutting back on production,” said Mxolisi Mgojo, head of the coal unit at diversified miner Exxaro. He said Exxaro would carry out some maintenance during the strike to minimise the impact.
Coal traders said the impact on exports was likely to be minimal as stocks at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) are likely to last for weeks. If the strike goes on longer, miners might need to use expensive trucks to transport their coal.
Other industries, including exporters of fresh fruit, said they were already feeling the pain.
Power utility Eskom said the strike would have no impact on the transport of coal used to power its plants, since only small amounts of coal were carried by rail, with the rest supplied by conveyor belts directly from mines.
The two unions said there were no talks planned.
“Management basically said ‘get lost’, so there is no meeting scheduled at the moment,” said Jane Barrett, Satawu’s spokeswoman. (Reuters)

American Journal of Transportation