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Thousands of workers at Transnet, who are members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) on Monday went on strike over a wage disagreement with their employer. 

Satawu secretary general, Jack Mazibuko told Elitsha that workers are not happy with the wage offer tabled by the employer. Members of the other major union in Transnet, the United National Transport Union (Untu), have been on strike over wages since Thursday last week.

“Workers are demanding a 13,5% wage increase, yet the employer is offering 3%, up from an initial 1,5% increase. Obviously workers are very unhappy about this. The employer has also attempted to interdict industrial action on one hand, and has equally refused to sign-off the picketing rules. That is why we are going on with the strike from today,” said Mazibuko. 

As it stands, Transnet is offering the workers, an across-the-board increase of 3% and one percent in the form of a lump sum equivalent to R7,600, according to Mazibuko. 

Mazibuko said their action was not just about wages but is a struggle for social, economic and political transformation in favour of the working class. 

Transnet and the two unions have been in wage negotiations since May this year, which the Transport Bargaining Council could not save from deadlock. 

On Monday afternoon, the Commission of Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), is expected to guide further talks between the trade unions and Transnet. Mazibuko said he hopes the CCMA intervention will help them with the issue of picketing rules that were not signed by Transnet. 

In a statement released last week, Transnet said its wage offer was the most reasonable given the current financial climate. “Management has re-emphasised its commitment to save jobs, and the latest offer made, which is a R950-million increase on the current salary bill, does not result in any foreseeable job losses. Transnet has urged unions, and Transnet workers, to accept its offer as the best possible deal.” 

In a joint statement released by the trade unions yesterday, they said it is clear that Transnet management is still committed to frustrating the union members and refusing to apply the requirements of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). Since the company had not signed the picketing rules (as amendments to the LRA in 2016 require before industrial action is permitted) the unions were only allowed to picket outside Transnet depots, and barred from embarking on a full-blown strike. 

Bonisani Tsewu is one of the employees who joined the picket in Pretoria on Monday. He has worked at Transnet for over 9 years and what he is earning currently is too little as the costs of living continue to soar. “I am the sole breadwinner and take care of my unemployed wife, three kids and two other kids of my late brother who live in the Eastern Cape. I am suffocating because my current salary cannot stretch far; there is rent, school fees, food and the petrol price. We work too hard for Transnet and sometimes are overstretched; we deserve the raise,” said Tsewu. 

He hopes that their union will not back down from what workers are demanding. 

Untu spokesperson, Yandiswa Menziwa said the strike is indefinite until an agreement is reached with the employer, adding that they would also be guided by the outcome of the CCMA-led engagements.

Questions that were sent to Transnet were not responded to at the time of publication.