A mass walk-out by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is continuing to paralyse the country's auto industry.

Depending on whether you accept claims from either the union or the Automobile Manufacturers Employers Organisation (AMEO), the strike is being observed by all workers, or a majority.

However, even AMEO accepts that 75% of its workforce has downed tools in a bid to secure wage increases of 15% and a wide range of new benefits.

NUMSA claims AMEO, which represents South Africa's major auto employers - Nissan, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford - is losing US$1.7m per day as the strike bites and, indeed, talks are ongoing between both sides.

But calls from just-auto to NUMSA elicited the following response from the labour organisation: "Our leaders are extremely busy to be wasting time to meet the employers."

"They have got more important work to do than listening to the employers. It is our ordinary shop stewards who will be there."

But frankly, what could possibly be more important than for the union top brass to be at that meeting?

The South African auto industry is at a virtual standstill but the union leadership "has more important work to do." The mind boggles as to what this could possibly be.

Having said that it appears the lowest paid workers in the industry take home around R5,000 (US$690).

Information sent to just-auto from the South African National Treasury detailing a quarterly employment survey of workers registered for income tax, shows average wages of ZAR6,400 and ZAR8,000 for non-agricultural and transport and communications industries respectively.

These are clearly average monthly earnings, not the lowest, but the AMEO grouping has offered what appears to be a reasonable compromise.

NUMSA has requested an unrealistic 15% rise - AMEO has offered 7% - unthinkable by current western settlements - but who else is meeting such large wage claims almost half-way in the teeth of a recession?

AMEO notes NUMSA has called the strike indefinitely but both sides are losing catastrophically from this in terms of wages and car production not to mention export potential.

NUMSA needs to get its top officials round the table and quickly to stop the haemorrhage of production and fall in export reliability.

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