The Department of Labour’s essential services committee is to examine whether the production, transportation and distribution of fuel should be declared an essential service, a pronouncement that would prevent workers in the sector from embarking on strike action.

The committee announced on Friday that it would hear evidence across the country next month on the matter.

Interested parties have until the end of August to indicate whether they intend to make oral representations to the committee, and state the nature of their interest in the investigation, and indicate whether they intend relying on expert evidence.

The hearings are expected to commence in Johannesburg on September 10, and then take place in Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, where they are to end 10 days later.

In recent years, the fuel industry has been hit by crippling strikes led by the biggest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), and the Cosatu affiliate, the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu).

The Labour Relations Act allows interested parties to ask the the committee to conduct an investigation into the possibility of the sector being declared an essential service.

Fuel Retailers Association chief executive Reggie Sibiya told Independent Media on Saturday that the organisation would participate in the investigation.

“The selling of fuel is part of distribution. The investigation (will explore the question), if fuel is not produced, transported or distributed, would it endanger life, and the safety or health of the population? I believe in some other countries this service is essential,” Sibiya said.

The committee will determine whether the entire sector, or part of it, should be declared an essential service.

In 2016, thousands of Ceppwawu members embarked on a three-week strike over wages, sparking fears that fuel pumps would run dry as it affected all refineries and depots of petroleum companies, and that the industrial action would cost the country R1 billion a day.

Irvin Jim and Welile Nolingo, Numsa and Ceppwawu general secretaries respectively, were not available for comment yesterday, while the committee’s chairperson, Advocate Luvuyo Bono did not respond to questions sent to him on Friday.

The committee is also set to consider whether the 22-year ban on correctional services employees and workers in services required for the proper functioning of courts embarking on industrial action should continue.

Prison warders and workers in services required for the proper functioning of courts were declared to provide and essential service in September 1997.

Political Bureau