Sugar workers' strike starts in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG – Workers in South Africa's sugar industry began their strike Tuesday to demand an 11-percent wage increase and permanent employment for all fixed-term and other contract workers.

"As you can hear in the background, the strike has begun in Durban near one of the refineries," Enock Dlomo, national sugar sector organizer at the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), told Anadolu Agency by phone from Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province on Tuesday.

Dlomo could not give the exact number of workers striking in KwaZulu-Natal.

"After I finish issuing t-shirts to the strikers, I will give you the exact figure of those striking here," he said at 11am local time.

FAWU General Secretary Katishi Masemola told AA on Monday that 5530 workers would commence the strike action on Tuesday, which would involve the entire sugar-milling and refining sub-industries.

He said the strike would remain in effect until the wage dispute was settled.

"Solidarity strikes have not been considered as yet, but have not been ruled out," Masemola told AA on Tuesday.

The strike is being staged in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, centers of the sugar manufacturing industry.  

The trade union has been negotiating for a wage increase with sugar manufacturers, who have offered 8.5-percent salary raises. The workers, however, are demanding 11 percent.

Workers are also demanding monthly housing subsidies of some 800 rand (roughly $70), along with a 40-hour work week.

According to Dlomo, the last such strike occurred in 1997.

On Monday, the FAWU said it was mobilizing members in all companies in which sugar is utilized as an ingredient – as well as those in sugar plantations and cane cutting – for a possible solidarity strike in tandem with the 5530 striking sugar workers.

South Africa's main sugar producing regions are KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Sugar is manufactured by six South African milling companies with 14 mills operating in the cane-growing regions.

South Africa's three main sugar producers are Tongaat Hulett, Illovo Sugar and TSB Sugar.

According to the South African Sugar Association, the industry produces an estimated average of 2.2 million tons of sugar per season.

The association says about 60 percent of this sugar is marketed in the Southern African Customs Union, a five-nation trade bloc, while the rest is exported to markets in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere in Africa.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency