Port Ngqura at Coega. Picture: SUPPLIED
Port Ngqura at Coega. Picture: SUPPLIED

The automotive industry is among sectors affected by an ongoing strike action at Transnet’s Ngqura port container terminal outside Port Elizabeth in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

The state-owned transport and logistics company said it had suspended a “number of employees” for embarking on what it described as illegal industrial action, whose impact has spread to other parts of the country.

On Thursday, Transnet spokesperson Molatwane Likhethe said the strike has had a negative impact on port operations and affected “all customers serviced by the port, particularly the citrus and automotive customers”.

Transnet was engaging with its customers regarding business continuity plans, which include prioritising urgent cargo, while discussions were also being held with labour, he said.

The industrial action’s impact on the economy, which shrank 3.2%, or declined by R56bn in the first quarter of 2019, “has not been quantified yet”.

However, The Herald reported on Wednesday that vehicle production at Volkswagen SA (VWSA) in Uitenhage was forced to slow down dramatically, with two shifts cancelled and staff sent home on Wednesday, due to the ongoing strike at the Port of Ngqura.

A shipping vessel carrying 150 containers with parts vital to the manufacturing of vehicles at the Nelson Mandela Bay plant was waiting to berth at the port on Wednesday.

The go-slow has resulted in VWSA falling short of its daily target of 680 units by 400.

The go-slow comes on the back of recent remarks by the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) that it was expecting a “very flat year” in vehicle car sales.

It announced in June that aggregate domestic vehicle sales fell to 45,939 units from the 46,663 units sold in June 2018. This was a decline of 724 units, or 1.6%.

Naamsa said the June 2019 new passenger car market had registered a decline of 942 cars, or a fall of 3.2%, to 28,885 units compared with the 29,827 new cars sold in June 2018.

The automotive industry also has to contend with a demand for a one-year 20% wage increase across the board from the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa). It tabled a 4.5% wage offer as its opening position during wage talks held with Numsa on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Likhethe said workers at the Ngqura container terminal had been on a protracted “go-slow” since last week, and that operations at the Durban container terminal had also been affected by equipment failure and “a high-level absenteeism”.

“Furthermore, decline in performance levels at the Cape Town Container Terminal has been noted.”

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Zanele Sabela said: “We are not on a go-slow at Transnet and we distance our members from that.”

Numsa could not immediately be reached for comment.

Likhethe said Transnet has established a daily command centre manned by national and local leadership to closely monitor performance.