CLOSE ON three months since they began striking, workers at dairy conglomerate Clover are resolute about not accepting pay cuts and slashed working conditions they say would take them back 20 years of historical bargaining, despite the rising body count from clashes with security personnel.
At the launch of the Amnesty International Report into atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians on Saturday in Braamfontein, calls were made to boycott Clover, Milco, Puma, Hyundai, Volvo and a host of businesses supporting Israel connected companies.
Some workers at Clover detailed apartheid-era working conditions they would rather give life and limb than accept.
“We have not been paid since October. There is no food. A lot of us have been ejected from our rental houses. Life is really tough but we have to stand together to see this through.”
“The story of Palestinians against Israelis resonates because it is very similar to what we are going through. We did not know how Palestinians live. More of this information should be shared so we are taught about it; it is exactly how we are being treated at Clover,” said a worker at the presentation.
Clover, taken over by Israeli's Milco or Central Bottling Company (CBC), is on a drive to save R300 million in wages that has seen the retrenchment of 860 workers in July, 853 in November, with a further 821 workers scheduled for the axe at the end of February.
Workers have been on strike since November 22 to press for a 10 persent or R2 000 wage increase and the revoking of austerity measures instituted by Milco/CBC, which entails salary reductions, a compressed working week of 12-hour shifts, offsetting short time against overtime, imposition of a six-day week, compulsory work on Sundays and public holidays, permanent short time and a cut to the transport subsidy.
“We do not accept the conditions... if we accepted that workers would regress 15 to 20 years of collective bargaining,” John Appolis, secretary-general of the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) told Business Report.
Clover, with about 9 000 workers on its payroll, was in 2019 bought out by the Milco Consortium, led by Israel’s top manufacturer and distributor of beverages, the Central Bottling Company, for R4.8 billion.
Workers under the auspices of Giwusa want a 10 percent or R2 000 wage increase, a 100% contribution to medical aid, voluntary work on Sundays and public holidays, restructuring of the Clover Provident Fund, job security, conversion of the five-hour merchandise workers, relevant salary grading and allowances including a R4 500 housing allowance, transport allowance of R2 500, risk allowance of R3 500 and a cold room allowance of R2000, among other incentives.
"The company has lied repeatedly about our actions. On Wednesday Giwusa hired three buses to take us to the Atlas plant to demonstrate there. A security guard was detailed to harass us. He kicked the door of one bus and threatened workers with a gun. workers got angry and they beat him up until he died. It is not true we raided the plant. We were just going to protest but the security guard made people angry," said a worker on Saturday.
According to Clover, about 150 striking workers arrived in three buses, tried to gain access to the Clayville property, and attacked security personnel with guns, rocks, batons, and other weapons. The striking workers left one security guard dead, and critically injured two others.
“This is the second guard to be murdered, the first of whom was Tsephe Molatsi who was murdered by striking workers on January 22, 2022,” Clover spokesperson Steven Velthuysen said.
Appolis said the last engagement the union had with the company was under the guidance of the Department of Trade and Industry’s director general Lionel October, but it failed to produce tangible results.
“We have submitted a proposed settlement that workers retrenched in November be reinstated, the salary freeze be withdrawn, austerity measures must be withdrawn from the collective bargaining table to another forum, and a 4.5 percent wage increase to apply across the board. We have not had a response from the company since then. Workers are suffering but they are resolute on continuing with the strike because accepting the company's conditions will take them back 15 to 20 years of bargaining“, Appolis said.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE