South Africa Grain-Wage Talks Collapse Amid Possible Strike

  • Workers want increase of 9 percent or 500 rand per month
  • Union to issue strike notice Friday if no agreement reached

About 3,000 employees at South Africa’s biggest grain processing and logistics companies may start a strike on Friday should an attempt to revive wage talks that collapsed be unsuccessful, their union said.

The Food and Allied Workers Union is meeting industry representatives Thursday in the capital, Pretoria, over its wage demands that include a 9 percent increase in monthly pay, Deputy General Secretary Moleko Phakedi said by phone. Senwes Ltd., NWK Ltd., OWK Ltd., Suidwes Ltd., which are former agricultural cooperatives, are among those that may be affected.

“If we can’t find a settlement between now and Friday, we will have a strike,” Phakedi said.

Workers are seeking above-inflation increases as South Africa, a net exporter of agricultural products, last year had the least rainfall since records started in 1904, damaging crops and herds and raising food prices. The farmers will need as much as 16.6 billion rand ($1.1 billion) in the year through March to subsidize feed purchases, provide grants and interest-rate subsidies to aid commercial growers in financial distress and help operators pay workers, a study by AGRI SA and others showed.

FAWU’s members are demanding an increase of at least 500 rand ($33) monthly and want the minimum wage to be 4,500 rand. Other requests include an extra month of pay annually, performance bonuses and an 850 rand housing allowance, Phakedi said. South Africa’s annual inflation rate was 6.2 percent in April.

“Negotiations have been long and difficult this year," industry representative Riaan Gerritzen said by phone. “We are confident we will sort out the differences.” A strike would affect secondary operations that include commercial branches and silos, he said.

About 27 percent of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed and the economy is expanding at the slowest rate since a recession in 2009.

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