At least 20,000 South African petroleum industry workers went on strike Thursday, a union official said, warning that pumps at filling stations could run dry in about three days.
Employees picketed outside refineries and fuel depots, vowing to push for a nine percent pay rise against a seven percent offer from oil companies including Sasol, Chevron and Total SA.
“These workers transport petrol and work in the refineries, so the impact will be huge if the strike is prolonged,” Clement Chitja, spokesman for the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), told AFP.
“The petrol stations may run dry in three days or so, but it is not our intention. The employers must to come us with better offers.”
“With our members and other unions, more than 20,000 workers are on strike.”
Chitja warned employers against using non-union substitute workers to produce and transport petrol.
“Employers might bring in independent truckers and our members would block their way, but we plead to employers not to provoke workers into violence by doing this,” he said.
Sasol said in an emailed statement that it had “put contingency plans in place to ensure the minimum disruption (and) will continue to proactively monitor the situation.”
“Operations continue as planned with no impact on production,” it added.
The National Petroleum Employers Association, of which Sasol is a member, was not immediately available to comment.
The Automobile Association (AA) advised drivers fill up with fuel and limit journeys.
“This strike does not include petrol pump attendants, but will start to impact motorists once the pumps at petrol stations start to run dry,” it said in a statement.
South Africa, which has strong trade unions, is often affected by major strikes and large, occasionally violent, street protests during pay negotiations.
But it has seen few labour stoppages this year as unions, employers and government struggle with record unemployment, a declining mining sector and flat-lining GDP growth.
The country, which produces 70 percent of the world’s platinum, was badly hit by a five-month strike by 70,000 platinum miners in 2014.
South African trade unions accuse employers of trying to dodge demands for better conditions by hiring foreign workers at lower wages.