Clover SA workers who have been on strike for more than seven weeks have described their employer as exploitative and always looking for ways to maximise profits at the expense of the workers. Two workers with more than ten years of service each are part of the 5,000 workers who have been on a national strike against factory closures, wage cuts and job losses. On Thursday, the striking workers picketed outside parliament in Cape Town while in Gauteng they marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand over a memorandum of demands.
Mzoli Nogaga who is a shopsteward for the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and joined the company in 2004 said the matter of contention is around retrenchments and austerity measures that the company has implemented. The company introduced voluntary severance packages (VSP) two times, according to him: “The second VSP came with retrenchments as the company wanted to implement restructurings that included salary cuts of up to 20% and those who refused to sign were told that they would be retrenched without pay and I’m one of them,” said the father of two. Along with the 20% salary cut the company according to Nogaga wanted to reduce the number of people who assist in offloading trucks from three to two including the driver. “The company also came up with a shift system that ensured that they do not pay for overtime,” he said.
As part of the restructurings the beverage and dairy company has, according to the unions, imposed a compressed work week, permanent short time, one van assistant and wage cuts. Only ordinary workers in merchandising, warehouse and distribution would be affected by the cuts, as Nogaga tells it, not management. “Clover has always been ruthless and exploitative and I feel that the company is merely retaliating for [our] refusing to sign the provident fund with Alexander Forbes few years ago. We refused to sign with Alexander Forbes and that never sat well with the company,” he said.
Nogaga’s views on the conduct of management and the company were echoed by Siviwe Mafuya who joined the company in 2006. With the compressed work week and permanent short time, Mafuya said that all the company is trying to do is avoid paying overtime and to squeeze every drop of work out of the workers as possible. “These are the reasons why I am here today and won’t stop until our demands are met,” he said. “When we joined the company in 2006 the basic for those who joined the year before was R2,800 but we were paid a basic of R2,100. After a long fight the company settled on increasing it by R300 and they back-payed us. It was not the R700 that we were demanding”.
Mafuya said that the company relies heavily on labour brokers and has just a few permanent employees. “They stopped employing workers permanently in 2007 and have made use of labour brokers,” Mafuya said.
The Milco consortium, led by the Israeli Central Bottling Company, purchased a majority stake in Clover in 2019. “Milco gave the Clover CEO R107-million to buy Milco shares, while the company wants to ‘save’ R300-million in labour costs by cutting workers wages and slashing jobs,” reads the statement from the unions.
The workers are calling for nationalisation of Clover under worker and community control
Addressing the picketers outside parliament, the provincial secretary of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) in the Western Cape, Abeedah Adams said that they have been trying to get hold of the Minister of Trade and Industry but to no avail. “EP [Ebrahim Patel] has been missing in action since December and has been avoiding to meet with us. Our demands are clear in that we want Clover to be nationalised under worker and community control. We call for the unconditional re-instatement of all dismissed workers. We do not want to work under austerity measures of 20% salary cut. The workers are already earning slave wages. We also know that Milco has been supporting the Israel Defence Force,” she said.
Vusumzi Tyhalwa from the Fawu said that they urge the workers to speak to the community not to buy Clover products.
Both Giwusa and Fawu are affliates of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the federation’s 1st deputy president, Nomvume Ralarala said that they will be meeting as the federation to devise ways to strengthen the strike. “The strike has been going on since November last year and we want to strengthen the strike and ensure that all Saftu affiliates and communities take part in the strike,” she said.
Yusuf Chikte from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign called on the minister of trade and industry and former general secretary of South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu), Ebrahim Patel, to “stop working as a tool for Milco”. The director of media relations at the Department of Trade and Industry, Bongani Lukhele said that the department was unable to respond to questions sent by Elitsha.
Clover SA is expected to pay last year’s bonuses to the striking workers today.