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Dairy company Clover draws a line in the sand on striking ‘dairy park’ workers

Clover said yesterday it was looking into the possibility of establishing a dairy park, generating new jobs, but for now was dealing with an impasse which had turned violent between the company and its workers in a prolonged strike. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Clover said yesterday it was looking into the possibility of establishing a dairy park, generating new jobs, but for now was dealing with an impasse which had turned violent between the company and its workers in a prolonged strike. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published Feb 23, 2022

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DAIRY conglomerate Clover said yesterday it was looking into the possibility of establishing a dairy park, generating new jobs, but for now was dealing with an impasse which had turned violent between the company and its workers in a prolonged strike.

The three-month strike looked unlikely to be breached any time soon as the dairy conglomerate insists workers will have to fold on their demands.

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Clover − majority owned by Israeli bottling company Milco, the Central Bottling Company and an unnamed black empowerment equity partner − is on a roadmap to establish a dairy park, the first on the continent, taking a leaf from US and New Zealand companies that have the model.

Steven Velthuysen, the group manager: legal and secretarial of Clover, told Business Report yesterday there were about 15 in New Zealand and 30 in the US, which produced a plethora of dairy products.

“The dairy park will allow us to grow more jobs and more products,” he said.

Commenting on the strike that has shaken the dairy producer, Velthuysen said Clover was sceptical of the intentions of the General Industrial Workers Union of SA (Giwusa) with regard the fate of the workers as no compromise had been reached in extensive consultations with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration as well as government departments.

“We have had eight meetings in which we failed to find common ground. We had a further three or four meetings with the union to try to resolve issues, but we are surprised at the now violent behaviour. We have an interdict on the workers, but they have resorted to intimidation. They have burnt trucks and offices,” Velthuysen said.

Workers over the weekend said they had not been paid since October, they were without food and some had been ejected from their rental houses for defaulting on rent.

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Workers reported that Clover, taken over by Milco or the Central Bottling Company (CBC) is on a drive to save R300 million in wages which has seen the retrenchment of 860 workers in July, 853 in November, and with 821 workers to be axed at the end of February.

Workers have been on strike since mid-November to press for a 10 percent, or R2 000 wage increase, and the revoking of austerity measures instituted by Milco/CBC which entail 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.

Velthuysen said: “We are at a stage where we question the bona fides of the union representing the workers. We have been transparent with the unions, instead they have taken on that nonsense about the shareholder … That is politics. This is a ‘no work no pay’ strike, and the poor workers are suffering.”

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Giwusa secretary-general John Appolis over the weekend said the union had made a proposal that would hopefully end the strike as it essentially entailed the reinstatement of workers axed in November, and a revised salary raise of 4.5 percent, down from the 10 percent initially demanded.

But Velthuysen said the union had rejected everything that the company had proposed and that the proposed settlement agreement reversed every position of Clover.

“The only thing we are close to is the wage increase, everything else is a reversal of what we put on the table.”

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Velthuysen said Clover had in place other means of labour that ensured supply to customers was not interrupted by the strike and was working hard at ensuring products got to the market.

Velthuysen said the company had initiated a Section 189 retrenchment process, which had been widely accepted by the majority of workers. It had also offered a reduction in salaries in lieu of job losses, which was accepted by about 60 percent of the workers.

“All workers accepted the process, except for nine who could not be accommodated under the process. We cannot negotiate with the union anymore.

“They are prone to violent actions and intimidation. They must reconfigure and come back with a compromise,” he said.

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BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE

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