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Hundreds of workers at Clover in Gqeberha are determined to continue with a strike that began on 22 November. The workers are accusing their employer of a raft of offences and are dissatisfied that the dairy company is arbitrarily implementing a programme of retrenchment. They say this will result in a greater workload for the workers who remain. Workers accuse the company of planning to hire a labour broker who they say will worsen their plight by underpaying them.

The workers are also unhappy that they were not paid annual bonuses despite having worked for the entire year uninterrupted. Glaring pay disparities between workers who were transferred from a branch that was closed in the Western Cape and their counterparts at the Gqeberha plant is also a grievance.

Most of the workers are members of the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa, (Giwusa). They have been camped outside the main entrance to the Clover plant in Perseverance. Workers also expressed unhappiness over the takeover of Clover in 2019 by a group of investors led by Israel’s Central Bottling Company. They say it was tantamount to reviving apartheid.

Giwusa shop steward, Zanoxolo Menze is a load controller in the warehouse and has worked for the company for ten years. He earns R8,000 per month and supports a family of eight people. He told Elitsha, “The employer is retrenching workers and has embarked on cutting and freezing their salaries. We feel we are not getting any respect from the company yet the company is making lots of profits.

“Some salaries have been cut by R2,000. We were told that we will be dismissed if we did not sign a document accepting retrenchment by the deadline of 25 November. We engaged the company concerning these threats but we did not get a positive response.”

Lucinda Markgraaf stays in Bethlesdorp with her family. She was promoted six months ago from the stock controlling department to the warehouse where she is a load controller. She is angry that her salary still remained the same. She tells Elitsha, “I should have got an increase in salary that matches my new position after completing three months of probation but I am still stuck on my old salary. My fellow colleagues are being retrenched and this is heart-breaking because these mothers are sole breadwinners of their families. I am here to support them because an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Enoch Mbotyana works as a delivery assistant. He said, “We are striking against the company’s bad labour practises. We worked for hours that were not paid. We want an increase in our salary for this year because the company never stopped operating during the times of Covid-19 lockdown levels. We never stopped delivering our products to shops.”

He said his life is not getting any better after working for the company for more than ten years. “We were supposed to get our bonuses last Friday but nothing was paid. We only got our salaries but were deducted for the duration of the strike. It seems my life is at a standstill point. I am not improving at all,” said Mbotyana.

Zola Manxoyi works in the cold-room. He said they should get allowances for working in a cold environment and whenever he’s raised it with the company, he has been told that the allowance is included in the payslips. Manxoyi explains, “But there is no such allowances on payslips. The other issue is that there are salary anomalies between us and workers who came from a branch that was closed in Cape Town. They are paid higher salaries than us but we are doing the same job.

“The issue of salary disparities is widespread and is a serious concern because a worker in Johannesburg or Cape Town earns more than their counterparts in Gqeberha despite that they do the same work.”

The strikers stand in solidarity with Palestine: “Clover has been bought by Milko of Israel. Milko changed our working conditions. This is the reason they want to retrench people. They are bringing in labour brokers. The workers will be earning less money than the retrenched workers. It’s all about cheap labour.”

“We did not want the deal to pass through because Israel is the equivalent of apartheid South Africa. Israel is killing Palestinians in the same manner apartheid South Africa did to black people. We can’t let our products and labour promote such inhumanity.

“We are asking all clients of Clover to show solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine by boycotting its products. We are also appealing to our government to take this matter seriously.”

Clover chief executive, Johann Vorster outlined in June the company’s restructuring plans. “For over a year we have faced extraordinary challenges following the arrival of Covid-19 which added to pressures already being felt in a weak economy. Unfortunately, we are experiencing unprecedented cost pressures.” Vorster said sales volumes consistently declined and products did not show any sign of recovery.

“Therefore it pains me to say the Exco and senior management are forced to consider ways in which to reduce personnel costs in the business by circa R200-million,” said Vorster before unleashing the cost cutting measures.

Menze said the strike will continue until Clover accedes to the workers’ demands.