Thousands strike in South Africa's plastics sector

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Thousands of South African plastics sector workers began a strike on Monday over pay and benefits, halting operations at some companies, the union and firms said.

The workers, represented by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), are demanding the same rights as those in the engineering sector represented by the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC).

NUMSA's spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the union members' grievances included a reduction in the minimum wage from 40 rand ($3) to 20 rand per hour, lack of bonuses as well as increased working hours without overtime pay.

Five unions, including NUMSA and the United Association of South Africa, collectively represent about 30,000 workers in the plastics sector. The NUMSA represents 10,000 of the workers.

The South African plastics industry employs roughly 60,000 workers in companies across different sectors including paper and packaging as well as textiles.

Swan Plastics, a Durban-based pipe manufacturing business, said its operations had been put on hold. Other manufacturers said their operations had not been affected.

Paper and plastics packaging maker Mpact said it was still assessing the situation and could not provide a comment at this stage.

The National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA) and the Plastic Convertors Association of South Africa (PCSA) have called for the strike to be stopped.

A NEASA official, Jaco Swart, said a court challenge against the strike would be heard on Wednesday. ($1 = 14.4383 rand) (Reporting by Patricia Aruo; Editing by James Macharia and Mark Potter)