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Durban - The murders of three members of rival unions representing workers at a KwaZulu-Natal supermarket chain have led to fears of a “hit list” and targeted killings.
A power struggle by the unions - both are claiming to represent the majority of Jwayelani Retail Supermarket’s 1 409 employees in KZN although only one is officially recognised - appears to be the cause of ill feelings and aggression between the two unions.
One of them, Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), claimed it was warned more killings would follow, and a director of Jwayelani said he had received death threats every day.
The company has opened 11 cases of assault and intimidation in Durban, and opened seven cases in Pietermaritzburg against the striking workers.
The three murders coincide with a continuing strike by Jwayelani employees affiliated to the United Chemical Industry, Municipal, Education, State Health and Allied Workers Union (Ucimeshawu).
The union’s representatives on Wednesday met the management of the supermarket chain at the Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in a bid to resolve the dispute, which includes workers’ grievances over wages and working conditions as well as union recognition.
It was agreed that the union would carry out a membership audit at each of the supermarket’s 24 branches in order for the CCMA to determine which union the company should recognise.
The employer has agreed not to discipline the workers on strike, and will allow for an inspector from the Department of Labour to do an investigation into the allegations of intimidation on Ucimeshawu members by Saccawu at work.
Ucimeshawu members have been on a protected strike since May 31 over demands that included making casual workers permanent.
Saccawu has claimed that its members, who were not involved in the strike action, were being intimidated by striking Ucimishawu members.
On Sunday, Saccawu buried one of its members, Menzi Mkhize, who was shot while on his way to work from his Lindelani home, near KwaMashu on August 15.
Last week the union’s Brightness Mkhize, 48, was shot 11 times at her Bhambayi home near Inanda. She died later on Thursday after she was admitted to a Durban hospital.
And last month Cyril Luthuli, of Ucimeshawu, was shot 16 times at his KwaMashu home.
Saccawu’s regional secretary, Mathews Ndlovu, claimed there was a “hit list” of members who were being targeted and that Menzi had been at the top of that list. He said police had told him the same gun had been used in the shooting of both Brightness, who had been an active member of the union, and Menzi.
After their murders, Ndlovu said the union received a mysterious telephone call last week warning that someone else was next.
“We have received threats that we would be killed, and we have reported that to the police. Our union organiser has also been threatened,” he said.
He also claimed non-striking workers were beaten by members of the rival union.
Ucimeshawu’s spokesman, Bheki Shabane, said his union was fighting for the workers’ rights.
Shabane, who insists his union is in the majority, said members were being intimidated at work because they joined Ucimeshawu.
Ndlovu said some of the issues that Ucimeshawu had raised had already been negotiated with the employer and that the workers were satisfied. He claimed the union was now only fighting for recognition.
“He (Shabane) wants recognition from management… He had discussions with management and he couldn’t get recognition. He has to prove that they are the majority (union),” Ndlovu said.
Jwayelani director Alfred Luthuli said the company had explained to Shabane that his union could not be recognised because it did not represent the majority of employees.
The union represented only 149 employees - 10 percent of the workforce - he said, explaining that in terms of the Labour Relations Act, it needed to represent 30 percent (or 300) of the employees in order to be recognised by the employer as a negotiator on behalf of its members.
Luthuli said he had been receiving death threats every day since the killing of Brightness. He has reported the matter to the police.
“Every day I get calls from someone, saying I should get out of the store, they are waiting for me outside. He said I should count my days, and he said he will kill me, but I am the last target on the list,” said Luthuli.
Luthuli accused Shabane of misleading workers who were on strike. He said the workers were being provoked “to doing wrong things”.
“He doesn’t communicate with his people. People are angry, and as a result people are dying for nothing here,” he said.
Luthuli said the union wanted casual workers to be registered as permanent employees.
“You cannot register those people. He (Shabane) promised them that they will be registered at Jwayelani. It is terrible what is happening here,” he said.
Luthuli denied claims that workers were being denied bathroom breaks, saying they had to clock in and out when going to the bathroom because of security reasons.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, confirmed the three murders, but could not say what the motives were.
“We cannot confirm whether the same firearms were used in the killings of the deceased since firearms were not recovered to make comparisons,” he said.