No sooner had the South African automotive industry thought it was out of the woods with the ending of one hugely damaging and costly strike – than another one begins.

With cruel timing following the majority of the country’s automaking staff, thought to be around 31,000, returning to work this Monday (9 September), the industry was then dealt a further hammer blow by the walk out of up to 70,000 more in the component, petrol retailing, panel beating and dealership sectors among others.

The strike is led by the same union – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – whose initial demands in the previous stoppage for a 20% pay increase coupled with a raft of other benefit requests – eventually led to a complex deal of 11.5% plus transport subsidies being agreed.

This time it appears NUMSA has asked for a yet more byzantinely complicated deal with a huge array of what are claimed to be “50 plus” demands put forward to the Motor Industry Bargaining Council (MIBCO).

“It is quite ridiculous,” MIBCO (Motor Industry Bargaining Council) convenor for components of South Africa, Mark Roberts, told me. “A lot of it is [a] shotgun approach – it normally boils down to five or six key issues. It is rates of pay, bonuses and a lot of peripheral issues.

“They [NUMSA] are demanding on average a 20% wage increase – they flirt between percentages and rates of pay – they always hold out for double digit. It is so avoidable, it really, really is.”

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South Africa seems caught in a cycle of industrial action every three years or so as pay deals progressively run down, with a sense of virtual inevitability strikes will follow.

There even appears to be an ‘after-you Claude’ sense the component, petrol retail and dealerships, will patiently wait their turn for their NUMSA auto manufacturing sector to end its own strike before starting their own.

NUMSA, on the ‘phone to me in the guise of its chief automotive negotiator, Alex Mashilo, during the manufacturers’ dispute, was reasonableness itself, forcefully articulating what it, rightly, views as a crucial, social dimension to its demands.

But the union’s public utterances, as voiced on its website for example, paint a completely different picture of old-fashioned, what else can you say, quasi-Marxist language, that belongs to a different era.

“The union has to be seen to be fighting a hard fight,” said Roberts. “It is part of their DNA – there will be a strike – irrespective.

Automakers will now be eyeing any proposed talks nervously as their just-in-time operations fall vulnerable to component shortages.

Despite possessing a natural stock buffer, at some point the parts will start to run dry, especially if this strike lasts as long as the previous three-week stoppage.

But it is the cumulative effect of prolonged strikes across so many sectors in South Africa, which could have the more long-lasting effect, on top of the billions of Rand already lost.

“The biggest price is the reputation of the country as a world player for manufacturing,” a South African told me. “We are on a world stage.”

There is also the suggestion this latest strike is turning ugly in places with intimidation and what limited stock there is, being refused entry to factories.

The walk-out also affects petrol stations but as it appears the refineries themselves are not on strike, fuel is still getting through, but it’s if the forecourts run dry that the country will really start to be affected.

Component producers are hoping the current industrial dispute ‘only’ lasts two weeks and doesn’t spill over into a third as the automakers’ employees walkout did.

But every time these strikes occur – and they appear to be as regular as clockwork – South Africa’s manufacturing reputation takes a bit more of a hit.

Japanese and American consumers, not to mention other global customers, are not interested in the nuances of a domestic South African dispute, no matter how noble the union aspirations.

They simply want their products delivered on time and to budget and if not, they could well take their business elsewhere.