SAB workers searching for their money17 years after unfair dismissal

Since June 2018, dismissed workers and their families have been picketing outside the SAB plant in Newlands. Photo by Qhama Mroleli

Former SAB workers and widows of those who have since passed on are searching for their provident fund benefits after their unfair dismissal in 2001.

A group of former South African Breweries workers and their families have been holding a picket outside the plant in Newlands from where they were dismissed in 2001 to demand provident fund benefits owed to them. According to some of the workers, they were retrenched in May and some in August in 2001 but they challenged the dismissal and the Labour Court (C1008/2001) ruled that the workers were unfairly dismissed and should be reinstated.

Patrick Macebo Pama started working as a “labourer” at the beer company in 1988. “I quickly moved up the rank and by the time I was retrenched I was an operator responsible for moving the bottles as they are cleaned. I was retrenched on 31 May 2001. When we met with the union they told us that the company was merely restructuring and that we were going to be upgraded but we were retrenched,” he said. According to Pama he never got his provident fund money after working for the company for 13 years. “The closest we were to getting our money was when one of the lawyers we appointed after the court case told us that the company was willing to pay us but without interest,” he said.

According to Pama, at some stage the workers were told to contact Sanlam and Old Mutual for their provident money but these fund managers told them to go back to SAB.

69-year-old Ndodomzi Voyi said that he never got money from the company because, he was told, he was not a union member and that the ruling for 9-months’ remuneration to be paid to the unfairly dismissed workers only applied to members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU).

Meanwhile 64-year-old Aida Ngqwebo told journalists about how her late husband died at work and she and her family were never compensated. “George was a boiler operator and was one of the workers who was transferred to a subcontractor, EB Steam. He worked for EB Steam for 2 years and one day, they noticed water coming from a pipe outside and they called in engineers. They discovered that the water was hot and had chemicals in it. They dug out the pipe but they did not barricade the hole or the door that leads to it; in fact they left the key in the door. My husband was on duty on the 29th of June in 2003 and a siren went off and when he went to check he fell in the hole. He was badly burnt to such an extent that when they took off his shoes his toes got stuck in the shoes,” said the teary-eyed mother of two as she shared the story of how her husband died.

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Ngqwebo’s husband died 3 days after the accident. “I had a lawyer who took my case on probono basis in the hope that if I win the case then he will get 25% of whatever compensation. The court found out that the company was not liable for the death of my husband but they ruled that the Department of Labour must prosecute the company for not following the procedure for making sure that the hole was barricaded. The company only gave us R5,000 which they said was their contribution towards the funeral arrangements,” she said.

Another widow, Nosamkelo Tyesi from Crossroads, whose husband died in 2006 said that her husband Lungile died of a heart attack because of the stress of not receiving the money that is owed to him. “He waited for the money to be paid out for such a long time and one day he collapsed and died. He left me with six children and at the time he was retrenched we were renovating the house. The renovations are still not finished,” she said. Tyesi told Elitsha that she works as a domestic worker.

In an email from the company’s Director of Corporate Communications, Refilwe Masemola, SAB and AB InBev Africa claims that it had reached an out of court settlement with the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) which represented employees at the time in 2005. “The settlement agreement involved compensation payable to these former employees through a financial institution nominated to administer the payments,” reads the statement.

The company also claims that it complied with the settlement agreement. “In June 2018, a committee purporting to represent the widows of former employees wrote to the company alleging that the former employees did not receive compensation as per the settlement agreement. SAB has been engaging with the committee representative, contacted the financial institution concerned and has since provided proof of payment to the representatives of the affected group. SAB has further advised the representatives that any further claims can be forwarded to the financial institution who will assist in validating claims, subject to necessary identification,” it said.

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The workers committee told Elitsha that they never gave any mandate to FAWU to sign an agreement. “What we want is the Labour Court ruling, C1008/2001, to be implemented as this ruling has never been overturned or amended in any court in the country. The company has finally agreed to supply the agreement so workers are looking forward to see that. The company needs to produce the signatures where workers have consented to this so-called agreement,” reads an email from the workers committee.

On the claim that the company has provided the workers with proof of payment, the workers committee argues that it received just a list with payments and that doesn’t qualify as proof of payment. “The company has not provided proof that workers received their provident fund monies; they provided a list with payments and dates; this is not proof.”

The Food and Allied Workers Union did not respond to questions sent to them on the 3rd of October. Instead, Meshack Ntechane, the provincial secretary wanted to know why we are interested in the story now. “In our view, regard the matter you raised in your mail which transpired some 17 years ago when one was not yet in the leadership of the union, leave much to be desired why you demonstrate interest only now. Having said, we will still revert back to you without any prejudice and unnecessary pressure on your part,” reads his email.

 

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