From a comfortable vantage point near the Newlands brewery of South African Breweries (SAB) yesterday, it was possible to see the steady flow of massive trucks with their hectolitres of Castle Lite and Carling Black Label heading off to sate the thirsts of drinkers across the Western Cape.
And from around the same spot, it was also possible to see that there was not a huge turnout of support for the protesting SAB workers who marched through Claremont to deliver a memorandum of demands to SAB management at Newlands.
Right now SAB management does look to be the considerably stronger player in this battle, the first in 16 years, with the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu). Despite Fawu’s extravagant claims that it has dented SAB’s operational capacity, there is little sign of any dents. SAB contends that only about 860 Fawu members are on strike out of a total of approximately 6 400 employees at SAB.
SAB claims it has a full contingency plan in place to minimise disruptions to operations and customers. Fawu counters that this plan includes “underhand tactics”, such as offering to pay workers extra cash to ignore the strike. To which SAB replies that the extra cash is merely performance-related payments for achieving targets.
Another development that appears to be a common feature of strikes is the interdict that SAB announced it was granted by the Labour Court yesterday afternoon. The interdict states striking workers must halt any violent activities and abide by the picketing rules. SAB said it was necessary to deal with the violence and intimidation that risked ratcheting up the tensions.
But while it is currently the stronger player, SAB must realise that there are few winners in a battle of this nature. The strike is uncomfortably close to the crucial year-end festive season. Although SAB has little recent strike experience, management must be aware that strikes do have a very nasty way of getting out of hand.
The Western Cape High Court ruled yesterday that leader of the opposition Lindiwe Mazibuko’s application to make the Department of Public Works task team’s report into the upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s private compound at Nkandla public was urgent. It will be heard on February 18 next year – around the time of the opening of Parliament speech by the president.
The Department of Public Works had argued, Mazibuko noted, that the matter was not urgent. “On September 30 I approached the Western Cape High Court to obtain an order compelling the Department of Public Works to provide me with a copy of the Public Works task team report. This was following the questionable rejection of my application to gain access to the document through the Promotion of Access to Information Act.”
Her party made the argument to the court that the matter needed to be heard urgently because the Nkandla scandal “and its subsequent cover-up” was a matter of public importance, that the task team report pertained to irregularities in the appointment of service providers and procurement of goods, and that the release of this report had been delayed for nine months since the report was finalised.
“This report must contain information that is of considerable interest to voters who will be voting for their public representatives next year.” The DA also argued the report contained “critical information for Parliament that will be electing a president of the republic” after next year’s elections.
It is estimated that Public Works spending on the property, including an underground cattle tunnel, has reached R270 million. One hopes that it is not a case of “we will huff and we will puff and we will blow your [the president’s] house down”.
Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), arrived an hour late for a press conference in Sandton on Monday.
The preacher from Mpumalanga – whose labour congregation is growing by leaps and bounds, if the green and black T-shirts were anything to go by – conveyed a strong message to Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), which is planning 4 800 job cuts, including 3 158 forced retrenchments.
After apologising for the delay, Mathunjwa, who was flanked by union members including national organiser Dumisani Nkalitshana, told the media the strike would continue indefinitely.
Amcu members downed tools at Amplats operations two weeks ago over the planned job cuts. An enraged Mathunjwa said on Monday that Amplats was sacrificing the jobs of its own employees in favour of contract workers.
Contractors work in diamond drilling and mine security jobs.
“We are saying that contractors must be terminated. They are doing core business which can be done by its own employees,” Mathunjwa said. The question that could be asked is: why should the contract workers not be made permanent?
In most cases contract workers are exploited and do not enjoy the benefits of full-time employees, such as medical aid and retirement fund contributions. Or is it likely that Amplats will convert its employees into contract employees to avoid the above-mentioned benefits, thereby cutting costs?
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole was not available for comment.
Mathunjwa said Amplats was prolonging the strike to divide the union.
He insisted that retrenchments were a last resort and blamed the company for pushing International Monetary Fund policies. He noted that the company was contributing to youth unemployment because the majority of those affected by the job cuts were young people.
Mathunjwa also called for the government’s intervention, saying that the minerals belonged to the people: “We never came here with passports; this is our country.”
Investors must have shuddered because the man of the cloth’s statements fuel concerns over security of tenure.
Edited by Banele Ginindza. Contributions from Ann Crotty, Donwald Pressly and Dineo Faku.