The occupation of the premises of Mine Line and TAP Engineering in Krugersdorp, West Rand, by disgruntled employees is entering its 27th day on Monday.
They have barred access to the director of the two companies, Wynand Mulder.
There is no police presence on the premises and Mulder has not made a visible effort to get back his properties.
The employees, who are members of the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (Mewusa), embarked on the occupation of the two companies, which are under one roof, following an application for the companies’ voluntary liquidation by Mulder.
The workers say they have adopted their action to secure the assets of the companies and ultimately to take over the two entities to protect their jobs, and recover unpaid wages and benefits.
They have also changed the locks at the factory, which is located near Doornkop Mine.
Mine Line and TAP Engineering employed over 100 workers and specialised in manufacturing water valves and locomotives for the mining industry.
Entering the main office where about 50 workers are assembled, one immediately conjures up images of the Paris Commune, a government that briefly ruled Paris from March 28 to May 28, 1871, and which was made up of anarchists and Marxists. It was hailed as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution.
Mametlwe Sebei, a spokesman for Mewusa, said Mine Line and TAP Engineering owed the SA Revenue Service about R15 million for PAYE, while it had deducted R1m from the workers’ pay since 2007, which it had not paid over into the provident fund. Wages were also outstanding for two weeks.
The workers also accused Mulder of getting a loan for R35m from Absa in the name of TAP Engineering, with which he had bought a fleet of company cars and a helicopter.
Michael Moloto, the liquidator of the two companies, said the bank was owed money close to that figure.
The municipality has switched off the electricity and the union is supplying the workers with take-away food.
Some men have brought in beds, so they can sleep there at night, while woman take part in the sit-in from the morning until the afternoon because they have children to look after at home.
It has been claimed that Mulder did not follow the consultation procedures under the Labour Relations Act before placing the two companies into voluntary liquidation on August 20.
Mametlwe said Mulder had been taking assets from the factory and stripping it of whatever value remained, hence the occupation. “Until there is a proper inventory, Mulder is not allowed to take any assets away,” he said.
So far, he says, seven industrial presses have been spirited away by Mulder.
Business Report tried to get Mulder to comment several times on Friday but his cellphone was on voicemail. He also did not respond to messages.
Mametlwe also accused Moloto of colluding with Mulder in the asset stripping.
However, Moloto denied the charge. He said that more than two companies were occupying the factory, including Rubber Dye Frame.
“All these companies have their own assets but the workers see them as one. I have met with Mulder and told him let’s identify what belongs to whom. I can’t take other companies’ assets because they will sue me,” he said.
The workers believe that Mulder is stripping the assets to take them to a new company, TAP Engineering (North West).
He did not qualify as a director of this entity because of his huge debts, a source said.
The company is 60 percent owned by Mulder’s son, who has the same name. The other shareholders are Joseph Motsi and Ernest Mogopodi, who hold 10 percent each. The other 20 percent is held by a family and a community trust.
TAP Engineering (North West) operates from Rustenburg and Randfontein.
Mewusa had a meeting with the Labour Job Creation Trust on Thursday to seek funding to re-open the factory under worker management.
Sharmiela Garnie, the executive director of the trust, confirmed the meeting.
She said another meeting had been scheduled for this week to gather more information before the trust could make a decision.
The function of the trust is to assist social enterprises and communities to create jobs.
Andrew Levy, a labour analyst, said sit-ins were “quite effective and certainly draw attention to the plight”.