The mainly-white and Afrikaans, Solidarity union, has taken industrial action against the share scheme introduced by petrochemicals company Sasol to benefit black staff. The union is also to launch legal action in the US.
The action is being reported as the first-ever strike by white employees in South Africa over racial exclusion.
Solidarity spokesman, Francois Redelinghuys, told DW that 4,000 of its members took part in the go-slow action on Monday. “As Solidarity we are pleased with the development of the action and the manner in which it was conducted. The go-slow will continue tomorrow.”
“On Wednesday we will deliver a Memorandum to Sasol at the Sasolburg plant and on Thursday our members in Secunda will embark on a full scale strike,” Redelinghuys said.
In its defense of the scheme, petrochemical giant Sasol, which employs 26,000 people in South Africa, said all companies there are obliged to meet quotas as part of the government’s effort to reverse decades of exclusion of black workers from company ownership, employment and procurement.
As a result, Sasol sold 25 percent of its local operations to some black employees, a foundation and individual investors in a 21 billion-rand ($1.42 billion, €1.22 billion) agreement financed by the Sandton-based company, which is the world leader in converting coal and gas to fuel.
Solidarity, a trade union with a Christian rather than a socialist ideology, objected on the grounds that it was discriminatory.
According to World Bank figures, the richest 1 percent of South Africa’s population control 70 percent of resources while the poorest 60 percent have a share in 7 percent of resources.
Legal action in US
Solidarity is also planning to complain to US regulators, as Sasol operates in North America, and the scheme excludes white staff and foreign nationals.
“We are not against the scheme, we just want it to be inclusive of all workers,” said Solidarity’s chief executive Dirk Hermann. “If the company makes it inclusive, the majority will still be black, so we see no need to exclude white workers as this is discrimination.”
Sasol said there was initially little impact from the go-slow and that it would depend how long the action continued.
Set up in 1950 in Sasolburg, Sasol developed processes originated by German chemists and engineers in the early 1900s. It currently employs 30,100 people worldwide and has operations in 33 countries.