Sasol hit by twin whammies of shutdown and labour action

Business

Sasol hit by twin whammies of shutdown and labour action

Solidarity has begun a three-week strike which coincides with a large planned maintenance shutdown

Lisa Steyn

You’d be forgiven for being puzzled by trade union Solidarity’s insistence that white employees be included in Sasol’s new employee share scheme, which is intended to bolster transformation and increase black ownership.
The union claims it’s in direct violation of the mining empowerment charter and the general practice at mines. The company disagrees. After months of discussions common ground cannot be reached.But it is best not to underestimate the well-oiled machine that is Solidarity.
Whether by sheer luck or by design, the union, which declared a dispute in January, has begun a three-week strike which coincides with a large planned maintenance shutdown at Sasol operations.
The tactic of choice is “work to rule” which entails doing the bare minimum in an attempt to slow the process down. Solidarity’s 6,300 members are typically highly skilled and constitute 20% of the company’s 31,000 permanent employees.
It’s not immediately obvious that the industrial action will have a notable effect if you consider that operations are already being closed and production forecasts have been cut. Sasol estimated the shutdown would take two million tonnes of product out of the production guidance for the year.
But three weeks gives the union time to execute its strategy and exert pressure on the company.
Sasol had anticipated an improved performance for the current financial year. At the release of Sasol’s annual results last month Bongani Nqwababa, joint president and CEO, said two risks to the outlook included the large planned shutdown not going smoothly, and any unforeseen labour issues. Unfortunately for Sasol, both are now on the horizon.

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