Toyota plant at Prospecton, Durban.  Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Toyota plant at Prospecton, Durban. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

STRIKE contagion spread to the motor industry this week, with workers failing to return to work for a third straight day at Toyota’s Prospecton, Durban, plant on Wednesday, and motor manufacturers struggling to keep lines running as a result of the truck drivers’ strike.

This was also having a major impact on the country’s image, motor industry players said on Tuesday.

This could affect ability to attract further automotive investment, as the government wishes to do, as Toyota negotiated a three-year pay deal only a year ago. The news comes after Ford’s Asia Pacific boss Joe Hinrichs spoke on Tuesday of the company’s "frustration" with stoppages in South Africa.

" … we have to be aware of longer-term considerations. Consumers will not pay extra because a vehicle was made outside the global competitiveness scale. They want value for money. They don’t care where the product was built," he told Engineering News.

"The plant is standing completely still," Toyota spokesman Leo Kok said on Wednesday, describing the action as "mass absenteeism".

Toyota is South Africa’s biggest vehicle manufacturer.

The reason for the strike was not immediately clear, but it appeared the dispute was to do with a R3.22 per hour premium "some skilled workers" were paid.

"We’re in discussions with the union right now," Mr Kok said. "There was a group meeting in Durban this morning with all the staff involved," he added.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa spokesman Castro Ngobese confirmed the stoppage and said that the union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, was in talks with Toyota management and workers.

Mr Kok said the current pay deal was supposed to expire "mid way through 2014".

It was not immediately clear how many vehicles the firm had lost as a result of the strike.

Mr Kok said the plant would have been impacted from Monday in any event as a result of the ongoing truck drivers’ strike. "There would have been work we could do on Tuesday, but the line would have had to stop anyway," he said.

Other motor manufacturers were also impacted by the drivers’ strike, with BMW "losing 30 cars last week" after axles were not delivered to the company’s Rosslyn, Pretoria, factory.

Spokesman Guy Kilfoil said the company had "made up the 30 cars last week already, and are now ahead of programme for this week".

"The bigger concern is getting cars to the dealers," Mr Kilfoil added, but said that the strike was "not a major upset at the moment".

Volkswagen South Africa spokesman Matt Gennrich said on Tuesday the company’s Uitenhage plant had "lost no production" but that the ongoing strike presented a "significant challenge" to the company.

"We’re not in any immediate danger, but it requires day-to-day management," Mr Gennrich said.

"These unprotected strikes are not good for the country’s image," he added.

Nissan spokeswoman Veralda Schmidt said the firm’s factory had "implemented countermeasures", and as a result there were "no disruptions".