The police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse strikers who were blocking the entrance to the power utility, Eskom’s Medupi Power Station on Thursday.
Thursday was the third day of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) organised strike. The strike, which involves more than 200 000 metal and engineering workers, the largest single labour grouping, started on Tuesday. They are calling for salary increments of between twelve and fifteen percent from their employers which are represented by SEIFSA. The employers on the other hand argue that this is rather exorbitant and also highlight that it constitutes more than double the rate of inflation. They are offering only eight percent as they feel that paying double figures would be irresponsible. They are due to meet with NUMSA on Friday to try and resolve the industrial impasse.
Things got to a head on Thursday when the striking workers blocked the entrance to Eskom’s Medupi power station. This resulted in the police having to use rubber bullets to try and disperse the striking workers. This was confirmed by the police spokesman, Ronel Otto. He added that the situation had been contained and brought under control by afternoon. The strike has disrupted construction at two essential Eskom power stations, the Medupi in Limpopo and Kusile, whose completion has been delayed, partly because of industrial action. The employers have condemned the violent nature in which some of the strikers have conducted themselves, particularly on Thursday. The employers said in a statement that the right to strike needed to be exercised without infringing on the right of others. In addition, the statement said that striking should not be used to create a perception of lawlessness. The worker organization have contested this statement arguing that this was a ploy to discredit the industrial action.
Apart from the physical disruptions, the strike has also been costly for the economy of South Africa. Coming as it does barely a week after the AMCU organised platinum strike, it has added a big dent to investor confidence that will take a long time to fix. The stoppage is costing South Africa some 300 million rand a day in lost output and will further drag the economy through the mud immediately after its most recent contraction in the first quarter of this year. This, analysts have said, will condemn South Africa to another year of sub-normal growth, meaning that recovery after the 2009 recession will take much longer.