Blue ribbon workers demand better working conditions

The Blue Ribbon workers at the Salt River plant have been on strike since the 28 November 2018. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Blue Ribbon workers have been on strike for over seven weeks with an agreement with the employer still a distant prospect.

Blue Ribbon workers in Cape Town have been on strike since November last year and there is no indication of a resolution any time soon. The workers at the Salt River plant are demanding better working conditions and a 9% salary increase.

The Food and Allied Workers Unions’ (FAWU) chairperson at the plant, Galelekile Ntshontsho, told Elitsha that they have compromised on many of their demands but the employer is refusing to budge. “Before we went on strike we were demanding a 15% salary increase, a funeral cover and a medical aid as we don’t have. Right now we have dropped the funeral policy and the medical aid and we are demanding 9% which the employer is refusing,” he said.

While the workers have moderated their demands, the employer has brought in private security that together with the police has responded to the strike with violence. “One of our members was shot by the police or the private security and she lost her ear,” said Ntshontsho.

The issue of police brutality was taken up in a march led by the South Africans Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) to Cape Town central police station on Wednesday. FAWU and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union made up the bulk of the marchers. “We are deeply concerned about the actions of the police, who are expected to protect both striking workers and the public, in acting in such unbecoming and irresponsible manner against workers on a protected strike,” reads SAFTU’s statement. The march by the unions was not the first as a memorandum calling for an end to police brutality was handed to the police on the 20th of December.

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Health and Safety issues

According to Nomvume Buso, a worker at the plant, those who work on production have to stand for the entire duration of their eight-hour shift. “We have to monitor the machine and operate the oven for 8 hours whilst standing on a floor made from metal and you have to be focused the whole time. Even when one is pregnant they are expected to do that”, said Buso.

“We work in a very hot environment and with machines that need constant checking to make sure that the bread is correctly labeled and is not undercooked and you have to do that for 8 hours and after the shift when you go outside it does affect your health in the long run,” said Zizi Sonyobashe, another of the striking workers.

Poor salaries and equal pay for same job

According to Ntshontsho, the FAWU chairperson at the plant, the lowest paid worker earns about R23 per hour. The strikers also complain that there is inequality between wages paid to workers in production and in other departments. Michael Mthetho, one of the striking workers, told Elitsha that the salaries are not the same even though they do the same work. ” You get general workers who earn R23 an hour and others who earn R45. We are all permanent employees and none of us work for a labour broker,” he said.

Shifts and transport allowance

The strike is taking place as the employer is re-structuring the workday. “The eight-hour shift is long and taxing as it is and they want to increase it to twelve and we think the workers would not be able to cope with that,” said Ntshontsho.

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Offer by the employer

The current offer on the table is an 8% increase and they want the workers to sign a three-year agreement and without backpay. To be locked in a three-year deal on these conditions, the FAWU chairperson at the plant, Ntshontsho said, is not what they want.

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