File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Cape Town – Striking employees at Premier, the fast-moving consumer goods manufacturer (FMCG), claimed victory over their employer after management reached an agreement with their union, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), bringing to an end a 105-day labour dispute.

The prolonged strike by the workers at Blue Ribbon Bread in Salt River over wages and working conditions came to an end via mediation with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Workers had been on a protected strike since November 28. Their grievances included the withdrawal of a paid lunch hour and reducing Sunday rates from double pay to one-and-a-half times the normal rate.

Management started meeting Fawu at the CCMA last week, on Monday.

The company had offered a three-year, 8% wage increase, claiming it was above inflation. Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said the agreement was 8%, to be backdated to July last year for three years.

“However, this doesn’t stop Fawu from demanding national bargaining any time from today. We salute our 700 members for engaging in this mandated 105-day strike as part of resisting Premier Food’s efforts to reverse gains workers made some three decades ago and to attempt taking us to apartheid-era working conditions and benefits.

“To this end, the company withdrew its demand that workers be paid less than the current double rate for Sundays overtime.

"Workers have taught management of this private equity fund (Brait Investment)-owned Premier that it cannot get away with such barbaric labour practices.

“The struggle for national bargaining at Premier Foods has just begun so as to get them to bargain with Fawu centrally - like Pioneer Foods’ Sasko bakeries in milling does. 

"We are pleased with this outcome and in few weeks we will be engaging this company on centralised bargaining,” Masemola said.

A worker said they had struggled after having not been paid for three months. 

“Some couldn’t allow their children to go to school because they couldn’t afford to buy the necessary stationery or pay fees. 

"However, we had to be patient as we can’t go back and work under the same conditions. So we are relieved with the outcome,” he said.

Premier Group strategy and marketing executive Siobhan O’Sullivan said the strike had been marked by violence and intimidation

“It is regrettable that our employees, community members and innocent consumers have been impacted by this strike. It is business as usual,” O’Sullivan said.

Cape Times