EAST LONDON - Thousands of workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London have been on an illegal strike, the Daily Dispatch has reported.Wheels24 was told at 11am on Monday that a statement would shortly be issued by Mercedes-Benz SA (see end of story) which confirmed the industrial action.The vehicle manufacturer was expected to approach a court if the 1600 workers at its East London plant did not return to work by the end of Monday, it was reported.The employees stopped work on Friday (May 17), bringing production to a halt.FIRST IN 24 YEARSMercedes-Benz had not experienced a strike in more than 24 years, the Dispatch reported. The company told the newspaper it had a good working relationship with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.Workers told the Dispatch a recognition agreement between the company and Numsa in 1989 allowed them to embark on an unprotected strike for 72-hours.The strike came amid tensions over the company's plan to outsource its logistics department which, Mercedes said, were not finalised.Shop steward Phumezo Tonisi told the Dispatch the union would meet with employees to decide whether to proceed with the strike. "The company interprets the recognition agreement in a way that suits it and we told them as much in our meeting on Friday."PAINT SHOP PROBLEMThe Mercedes statement that MBSA has confirmed that that workers at its East London plant "participated in an unprotected strike" on 17 May and that production was affected."The company has established that the strike was in regard to a decision by the company to investigate work stoppages in its paint shop on May 14," MBSA said. "Talks between company management and the union continued today (May 20) where Numsa officials indicated they would be calling for workers to return to work."The company has a long and proud history of positive relationships with the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) since the two parties entered into a Recognition Agreement in 1989. The commitment to work together in a spirit of partnership and trust, ensuring sound and equitable industrial relations and practices, for the general wellbeing of employees and the viability of the Company, has become entrenched over the years."Prior to Fridays unprocedural strike, there has been no major industrial action based on labour relations at the plant for more than 20 years."