Vehicle production in South Africa has come to a standstill this week following a strike that began on Monday (19th) by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), affecting more than 30,000 workers across the country’s assembly plants. BMW, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen are amongst those that have been hit by the walkout.

The union is calling for 14% across-the-board pay rise while carmakers operating in the country are offering a 6% increase in line with inflation.

Workers are also demanding a 100% payment for temporary lay-offs that come as a product of logistics problems in the supply chain. Currently, when disruptions to supply occur, workers can be laid of on a temporary basis without pay, according to NUMSA.

Talking to the Sowetan Live news source, NUMSA chief negotiator Alex Mashilo said that when it came to short term or temporary lay-offs as consequence of component supply problems, workers should be fully compensated.

“Workers are tired of being sent home when the logistical system breaks down and not receiving salaries,” he told Sowetan Live. “These workers have no other employer and so they must be paid while companies have them on short-term or temporary lay-off.”

As forecast by BMW last week, the strike is compounding problems for the carmaker at its plant in Rosslyn, which had already suffered a walk out by 2,000 workers a fortnight ago over a shift allowance dispute. Having already lost more than 1,600 units of production, the carmaker is now looking at additional daily losses equal to 345 units.

Nissan, which also has a plant in Rosslyn, confirmed that production has been temporarily halted as a result of the strike action called by NUMSA.

“As part of the Automobile Manufacturers Employers Organisation (AMEO), Nissan is working hard with the other members to resolve the situation quickly and amicably,” it said in a statement. “Throughout this period we will continue to take all available measures to minimise the impact of the strike action on customers, and seek a return to normal operation as swiftly as possible.”

At GM’s plant, which normally produces around 250 vehicles a day, severely restricted attendance meant that production was also cut.

“We were unable to continue with normal production yesterday and today,” a spokesperson told Automotive Logistics. “We had an 18% hourly attendance rate today and have re-allocated our labour to support other areas of our business.”

Echoing points made last week by BMW, GM raised the issue of the potential damage to the reputation of the region such strike action could have.

“The challenge for the South African automotive assembly industry is to remain competitive versus a growing number of high volume and low cost countries,” she said. “The lack of labour stability is a major deterrent to investment and growth in this country.”

Volkswagen also confirmed that that the majority of NUMSA members had heeded the call to strike and that there would be no production at the company’s plant in Uitenhage.

NUMSA called for similar action back in August 2010, which involved 70,000 workers in the components, repair, dealership and fuel retail sectors, as well as workers from Dunlop, Bridgestone and Continental tyre makers.

That strike hit automotive exports, which account for at least of half of automotive production in South Africa, and it is likely there will be disruptions to outbound supply as a consequence of this week’s action. The OEMs are faced with meeting the shortfall from other global locations, though no details have been released.