Why South Africa’s ports could be completely shut down on Thursday

Ports satawuTrade union Satawu are threatening to cripple the country’s economy with industrial action at all major ports in South Africa. But what’s their reasoning?

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The waves of trouble are crashing against South African shores this week, as all major ports across the country are set for a total shutdown on Thursday. Sadly, it’s an all-too-familiar tale

Why are South Africa’s ports facing a shutdown?

Industrial action is scheduled for Thursday morning, where striking workers are planning to down tools at 6:00 sharp. Mariners all across the country who belong to the Satawu trade union have vowed that they will not return to work until issues of salaries and racial inequality have been addressed.

Union representatives, employees and Transnet management have been locked in discussions on how to move forward. Black mariners are upset that their white counterparts are allegedly receiving higher wages than them, despite doing the same job. Talks between the tripartite have been fruitless.

Here’s who will be on strike

The next step will now see a myriad of port workers refuse to carry out their duties. Tug masters, pilots, and even skilled engineers will go on strike, with many others joining them in solidarity. According to Satawu, the docks of South Africa will not be able to function without these vital employees carrying out their highly-demanding jobs.

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, trade union officials promised to “bring the economy to a standstill”. The affected facilities will include the ports of Durban – amongst some of the busiest in Africa – Richards Bay, Cape Town, East London, Port Elizabeth, Saldanha Bay and Mossel Bay. The cost of these demonstrations could be astronomical:

“The mariners’ skills set is such that its withdrawal will result in a total shutdown at all ports. The economy will come to a standstill, so our complaints can be taken seriously.”

“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.”


Ports strike: What happens next?

The strife could worsen even further if a compromise cannot be reached. Satawu have threatened to crank-up their industrial action if there is no agreement in place by Monday 3 June. As well as skilled workers, the union are promising that all port workers for Transnet will refuse to clock-in at the start of next week.

No further discussion are planned for Wednesday, but that’s subject to change: Eleventh hour interventions are common in these situations, and Transnet will be under severe pressure to limit the economic damage.

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