* Auto workers down tools at Toyota, Ford, GM, others
* Strike seen costing $60 million a day in lost output
* Car industry contributes about 6 pct of nation's GDP
* Adds to labour woes in Africa's biggest economy
By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN, Aug 19 South Africa's auto
manufacturing industry came to a near standstill on Monday when
about 30,000 workers downed tools, adding to the labour woes of
the continent's largest economy which has been hit by violent
unrest at its mines.
The stoppage would cost the industry about 600 million rand
($60 million) a day in lost production, the National Association
Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA) said.
"The strike affects the entire value chain of the industry,"
NAAMSA director Nico Vermeulen said.
Five of the seven companies operating in the South African
auto sector, including Toyota, Ford and General
Motors, said production had been halted or affected.
Underpinned by government incentives, the industry
contributes at least 6 percent to gross domestic product and
accounts for 12 percent of exports.
A fresh round of labour unrest will be a political headache
for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National
Congress (ANC) ahead of elections next year.
The strike was called last week by the National Union of
Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), its largest manufacturing
union, which wants pay hikes of 20 percent for its members,
compared with inflation at 5.5 percent. Companies have offered 6
The central bank has warned about the inflationary impact of
high wage settlements on consumer prices. But workers are
stretched financially and often have several dependents, with
the unemployment rate officially at 25 percent, and at 40
percent, according to most analysts.
Strikes also loom in the mining sector with unions seeking
pay rises of up to 150 percent, which companies say they can ill
afford as metal prices slump.
Mining strikes over the last 18 months have killed more than
60 people, slowed economic growth, hit the rand currency and led
to sovereign credit downgrades.
LABOUR HEADACHE FOR ZUMA
Zuma and the ANC have faced heavy criticism for their
handling of last year's wave of wildcat strikes in the mines,
which also dented growth and alarmed foreign investors.
Elias Kubeka, national motor sector coordinator for NUMSA,
said the auto industry strike was "very well supported and all
of the factories, 100 percent, are shut down". Meetings between
the two sides were scheduled for later on Monday.
Toyota said 80 percent of its 8,000-strong South African
workforce had not turned up for work.
Guy Kilfoil, a spokesman for BMW in South Africa,
said the strike was costing it 345 cars a day.
"We work 24 hours, seven days a week. There is no production
and there is no plan to make it up," he said.
Wages in the auto sector range from about $850 a month for
basic workers to $1,800 a month for qualified technicians.
In the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour
Statistics, the annual average hourly wage in 2012 in vehicle
manufacturing was $28.08. Assuming a 40-hour week, this would be
close to $4,500 a month.
But worker productivity in South Africa is constrained by
low skills and training, industry experts say.