Union may strike over black employees’ share plan at Sasol

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South Africa’s Solidarity trade union can go on strike in a dispute with petrochemicals group, Sasol, over its plan to provide a share ownership scheme exclusively to black employees, a government mediator has ruled.

South Africa has a state-mandated drive to lift black ownership levels across an economy still riddled with apartheid-era racial disparities.

The ruling opens the way for white workers to down tools over the issue – a new flash point in a country riven with labour conflict.

Solidarity, which represents mostly skilled and white workers, declared a dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) over Sasol’s plan to exclude white employees from its new share scheme.

The commission found in a ruling last week but only made public on Monday that “there is nothing in law” that would prevent it from providing Solidarity with a strike certificate -needed for workers to down tools – over the issue.

The two sides are still in talks being mediated by the CCMA. Solidarity represents about 5 300 employees at Sasol, about a fifth of its South African workforce.

“What we argue is that all employees should be treated the same so that all employees who contributed to the success of the company receive the same amount and treatment,” Deon Reyneke, Deputy General Secretary at Solidarity, told Reuters.

In a statement, Sasol said it was confident that the share ownership plan “incorporates what we consider to be the most appropriate and best features of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment structures in South Africa.”