Andrew Kirby. Picture: SUPPLIED
Andrew Kirby. Picture: SUPPLIED

Toyota SA president and CEO Andrew Kirby hopes a week-long, illegal strike which has brought the company’s Prospecton, Durban vehicle assembly plant to a standstill will be over “very soon”.

The strike, which has stopped daily production of about 500 vehicles, is believed to be the result of conflict within the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

The company won’t disclose reasons for the dispute, but sources say Numsa shop stewards voted out of office at Prospecton late last year are demanding reinstatement. The union argues they were ousted democratically and has instructed them and their supporters to return to work. Toyota has been granted a court interdict ordering them to stop industrial action but Kirby said: “They are not listening to us or to their union.”

Despite this, he hopes it will not be necessary to retrench anyone when the dispute ends. Several attempts by Business Day to obtain comment from Numsa were unsuccessful.

The strike began on Wednesday last week and has so far cost the company about 3,000 vehicles. Prospecton builds the Hilux bakkie, Fortuner SUV, Hino trucks, Quantum bus and Quest car. The Quest, based on the previous-generation Corolla, will be the last Corolla-related vehicle to be built in SA. The latest Corolla range, just launched in SA, is imported. More than 1-million Corollas have been sold locally since the vehicle was first built at Prospecton in 1973.

Kirby told a media briefing on Thursday that the Prospecton shutdown will have limited, short-term effect on SA customers as the company has reserve stock of the affected vehicles. Other products, such as the Landcruiser, RAV, Yaris, Etios and Aygo, are imported and unaffected by the strike.

The bigger immediate impact is likely to be on exports. Since mid-2019, monthly exports, mainly to Europe and the rest of Africa, have ranged between 2,500 and 5,300. However, Toyota insiders say that as long as the strike does not drag on, Prospecton should be able to make up most of the production shortfall and the estimated R1bn retail value of vehicles not built yet.

The strike is a disappointing start to what already looks like being a difficult year for the SA motor industry. Domestic sales of new cars and commercial vehicles have been shrinking since 2013 and Kirby thinks the market will decline by another 4% in 2020 from last year’s 536,626 — itself 2.8% down on the year before.

The industry also has to prepare this year for a new way of doing business. An updated version of the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), the government-led policy governing the motor industry, will be introduced in January 2021. In many ways a continuation of the current APDP, it will also include significant changes — some of which have yet to be finalised — and some vehicle and components companies are worried they may not be be completely ready in time.

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