Workers march on SAPO offices to protest concessioning of terminals

May 7, 2003
Author: P&S

A group of about 50 port workers marched on the offices of South African Port Operations (SAPO) this week to register a protest against the planned concessioning of the Durban container terminal.

The workers, who are members of South African Transport & Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said the intention was to protest to SAPO management about government’s intention of unilaterally concessioning SAPO terminals to private operators.

The purpose, said Satawu, was to deliver a memorandum to SAPO saying that organised labour believes the future economic and employment viability of the ports was being placed at risk by Minister Radebe and his Department of Public Enterprises (DPE).

Satawu said it did not accept the take it or leave it approach and was demanding proper negotiations and a full review of the needs of the ports. It said the outcome of a full review must be based on:

1. A thorough examination of all internal inefficiencies in our ports (including private sector inefficiencies, service providers, and shippers).
2. An analysis of the investment needs in the ports
3. An analysis of the role of local business in the ports, especially BEE companies
4. Job security guarantees
5. Plans for the training of port workers and managers for the future
6. The speedy establishment of the agreed National Dock Labour Scheme
7. Ratification by government of international labour standards for port workers (ILO Conventions)

On the issue of job security, Satawu said that the sort of job guarantees being proposed are hardly adequate. “Minister Radebe has communicated to the public (though not formally to the union) that workers transferred to private operators will be guaranteed their jobs for three years. But what happens after those three years? Many workers are in the early 50s now and will have no prospect of alternative employment in three years time.”

It claimed that in any event there are already job losses on the table within SAPO. “Satawu is currently in dispute with SAPO management in Durban over the proposed retrenchment of 361 workers in the Multi Purpose Terminal and see this as part of the preparation for privatisation.”

Jane Barrett, policy research officer for Satawu said today that Durban port workers intended protesting again on Tuesday (May 13), one day after the transport sector of the National Framework Agreement (NFA) was due to meet with government on the issue of port restructuring. Workers would also march on government offices on Saturday, May 17.

She said Satawu hoped that government would agree to the union’s demand for proper consultation.

In reaction to yesterday’s action Themba Gwala, SAPO’s general manager for the port of Durban said that according to the notification received from the Satawu regional office, the action taken to protest was unlawful as it had not met the requirements of the Labour Relations Act of 1995 section 77, nor on labour management agreements.

“We also urged the trade union to rethink its planned actions given the non-compliance with the Act,” he said.

Gwala said that nevertheless Satawu had gone ahead with unprotected demonstrations at the Durban container terminal and Maydon Wharf. These took place between 7am and 12 Noon on 6 May during which memoranda were delivered to management at these two terminals.

“We do not know how long this will continue. However, the notice we received suggested that the action would commence on 6 May and would continue until 17 May, 2003.”

He said that so far these actions had not had a direct negative effect on port or terminal operations, but the situation was being monitored closely.

A spokesman for the DPE said the industrial action was unfortunate and unnecessary. “The department has already agreed to meet with national representatives of Satawu on 12 May to discuss various options relating to the restructuring of national ports with a primary focus on involving the private sector in the upgrading and operations of the Durban container terminal.”

In a related event, shop stewards at the port of Cape Town were meeting today (Wednesday, 7 May) to finalise plans for similar protest action in Cape Town.

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