* Rail and port workers to strike over pay
* Protest watched closely as World Cup approaches
By Agnieszka Flak
JOHANNESBURG, May 10 (Reuters) - Thousands of South African logistics workers are set to go on strike on Monday, threatening to cripple rail, pipeline and port operations in Africa’s biggest economy.
The strike at logistics monopoly Transnet would be the latest in a series of public protests ahead of next month’s soccer World Cup, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors to South Africa.
Transnet [TRAN.UL] has been locked in a pay dispute with its workers, and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said its 18,000 members would go on strike after rejecting a proposed pay rise.
The strike could paralyse coal and iron ore exports, distribution of fuel, and interrupt shipping at ports.
The unions want a 15 percent pay increase. The company had originally offered an eight percent rise but then increased the offer to 11 percent on Friday.
The union says Transnet had removed the crucial ‘no-lay offs’ clause, leaving workers vulnerable to job cuts, and failed to improve other conditions.
“The 11 percent is misleading. It gives the impression that the offer has been upped. But what it takes away is the increase in benefits for medical aid and housing subsidies,” said Jane Barrett, Satawu’s policy research officer.
Unions were divided over the Friday offer. Unlike Satawu, the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) urged its affiliates to accept the offer and report for duty on Monday.
“Our worry is that if we don’t accept this offer, the next one could be less than 11 percent,” said Chris de Vos, Utatu’s Secretary General.
If Utatu’s members reject the offer, the union could join the strike by Wednesday, he said. The two unions represent some 85 percent of Transnet’s workforce of around 50,000 people.
Both unions received a go-ahead from authorities to hold the strike from Monday after wage talks had failed. [IDnWEA9175]
Power utility Eskom said the strike would have no impact on transport of coal used to power its plants, as only small amounts of coal were transported by rail, with the rest supplied by conveyor belts directly from mines. [ID:nLDE6461KZ]
The unions and Transnet have agreed that commuter transport would not be affected. Other operations could impact numerous industries as they rely on the logistics group for transport, especially if the labour action goes beyond May.
Coal traders have said the strike would have a limited impact on the industry in May, given that Transnet was planning to put some operations under maintenance that month anyway and given large enough stocks at the export terminal.[ID:nLDE63S1GF]