South African Filling Stations Running Dry as Oil-Workers Strike May Widen
South African gas stations are running dry as a strike over pay by petroleum industry workers enters its fifth day.
Cars formed long lines at gas pumps that had fuel as shortages hit more than 200 filling stations in Gauteng province, the nation’s economic hub, and at least 70 in KwaZulu- Natal, the Johannesburg-based Fuel Retailers’ Association said today.
The situation is changing “almost on an hourly basis,” Jean Dennis, spokeswoman for the South African Petroleum Industry Association, said in a joint statement with the government’s energy department. Jet fuel hasn’t been affected by the strike and commercial airlines are unaffected, she said.
The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union and the General Industries Workers’ Union of South Africa started striking after employers responded to demands for raises of as much as 13 percent with an offer of between 4 percent and 7 percent.
Workers are pushing for wage increases that are more than double the 4.6 percent inflation rate, arguing that surging food and fuel costs are driving down living standards. Wage talks in the coal, gold and platinum industries have also stalled, and unions have warned that labor action is imminent.
Municipal workers may strike as soon as next week, the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday.
“As of yesterday the situation is really bad,” Reggie Sibiya, the association’s chief executive officer, said by phone. “This morning we’re getting e-mail reports quick and fast” of more shortages, he said.
Petroliam Nasional Bhd.’s Engen Ltd., South Africa’s largest fuel retailer, said 170 of its stations were dry as of late yesterday, while Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA)’s unit said today that at least 100 of its 230 stations in Gauteng were out of some grades of fuel.
“We have not been able to fully recover from a delivery backlog in Gauteng, since many retail sites are experiencing considerably higher sales,” Shell said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “We are trying our level best to maintain fuel deliveries and meet the increased demand.”
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said yesterday that 65,000 members of its road freight division may strike in support of the petroleum industry workers.
Road freight workers will “mobilize solidarity support if called upon, including marches and pickets, with the striking members” should their wage demands go unmet, the union said in an e-mailed statement.
Open-cast mines in South Africa may run short of diesel within a few days if the strike continues, the Chamber of Mines, an industry body, said today. Open-cast mines in South Africa include most coal mines, iron ore operations and some platinum mines. Underground gold and platinum mines are more dependent on electricity.
Open-cast miners “usually keep a week’s worth of fuel in stock, so most should be able to last that long,” Dick Kruger, an assistant adviser at the Johannesburg-based chamber, said in yesterday an interview from Johannesburg. “If the strike drags on, then problems can really develop.”
The Steel and Engineering Federation of South Africa, an employer body representing companies, said yesterday it reached an agreement with workers to end an 11-day strike and work will resume July 18.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is consulting members and the strike is not over, spokesman Castro Ngobese said in an interview broadcast by eNews Channel today.
Workers at Pioneer Foods Ltd. (PFG)’s Sasko Grain unit began striking for more pay July 13, the Food and Agriculture Workers’ Union said in an e-mailed statement today. The employees have asked for a 9 percent salary increase, while the company is offering 7.25 percent.
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