Friday, July 15, 2011

South African Workers Strike Creates Petrol Shortage

Now Solidarity fuels fire

News Live

A wave of panic is sweeping across South Africa as an increasing number of petrol stations reportedly run dry.

And trade union Solidarity, which has 6000 members in the petroleum sector, has threatened to down tools at Sasol's main refinery in Secunda, Mpumalanga, a move it says will lead to the plant shutting down.

Sasol did not respond to questions yesterday.

The fuel strike entered its fifth day yesterday. More than 70000 members of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union have downed tools since Monday, halting the supply of petrol from depots to filling stations.

While major retailers insist they have not been affected, the Fuel Retailers' Association, which represents all petrol stations across the country, has admitted that the industrial action has caused massive fuel backlogs, from which members are struggling to recover, especially in townships.

Reggie Sibiya, the association's CEO, said hundreds of pumps had run dry. He urged unions and employers to "put their feet on the gas" because the shortage was affecting everyone.

"The shortages have already had an impact on business. Business is not able to deliver stock; they are bleeding," he said. "They are still paying wages, but there is no stock on the shelves to sell."

The most affected provinces were Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with townships such as Soweto the hardest hit.

Mateboho Tsiu, the spokesman for the Consumer Goods Council, which represents 11000 members in the retail and manufacturing sectors, said should the strike continue, "business will come to a standstill".

"Contingency measures have been put in place for non-consumable goods. Extra stock is being delivered to those retailers and businesses that have the capacity to store extra goods," said Tsiu.

"The perishable consumable goods cannot, however, be predelivered as they have a very short lifespan."

But major chain stores insist their businesses have not been affected.

Neal Quirk, Pick n Pay's operations director, said: "We have been in touch with our service providers, who have assured us that they have the appropriate contingency measures in place."

Woolworths and Shoprite said they would not be affected by current shortages.

Premier Foods chief executive Ian Visser said that although the strike had not yet affected stock delivery, the company would "need replenishments soon".

Shell South Africa spokesman Elton Fortuin said 50 of its 230 retail sites in Gauteng were without petrol.

"We have not been able to recover fully from a delivery backlog in Gauteng since many retail sites are experiencing considerably higher sales.

"Protest action on Monday and Tuesday prevented us delivering fuel in the area," he said.

Fortuin said striking workers continued to intimidate Shell employees, but the company would continue to ensure the safety of its workers.

There were reports that Shell tankers were being stoned.

"We are trying our level best to maintain fuel deliveries and meet increased demand amid pockets of strike activism in various locations," he said.

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