UPDATE 2-South Africa's Transnet faces strike as wage talks stall

(Adds Transnet response, details)

CAPE TOWN, June 10 (Reuters) - Union leaders at state-owned South African freight logistics group Transnet said they planned to pursue a strike after their members rejected a 4% across-the-board wage hike offer.

The United National Transport Union (UNTU) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) told Reuters their members had rejected the offer, which was one percentage point higher than Transnet had put on the table.

“We have just sent communication now to the bargaining council to say we’ve had quite a bit of response and the response was to reject the offer,” John Pereira, deputy general-secretary of UNTU, said on Thursday.

“Both unions have rejected the mediator’s recommendation of 4% … the unions want one thing only and that is a certificate to strike,” Jack Mazibuko, general secretary of SATAWU, said.

The certificate will allow the two largest unions at Transnet, representing more than 75% of the total workforce of around 48,000 staff, to give the company 48 hours notice before embarking on a protected strike.

Any prolonged strike at the state-owned company in charge of South Africa’s port and rail freight network could affect key exports of automobiles, grain and mineral ore just as the country tries to get its struggling economy working again.

Transnet said it believed the non-binding offer recommended by the mediator, though unaffordable, was acceptable as a means to arrive at a quick settlement, given the “current operational and financial challenges the company continues to face”.

“The demand by the unions is simply unaffordable in its current form,” Transnet said, adding that any solution must have due regard to the sustainability of the company.

South Africa faces a raft of crippling strikes over wages, from the public sector to city waste removers, as unions try to eke out the most for their members in a pandemic-battered economy with massive unemployment.

“We will decide when is the best time to strike so we have maximum impact,” UNTU’s Pereira said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by David Evans and Alexander Smith)