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Fishing sector strike looms as workers claim wage offer is an “insult” to the working class

Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus.

Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus.

Published Aug 21, 2021

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Johannesburg - Two thousand three hundred employees in the fishing sector are threatening to down tools or in their case, not cast their nets, after salary negotiations deadlocked.

It’s feared that more than 6 000 workers in the sector could be affected should the strike go ahead.

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The workers from three unions, Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), Trawler and Line Fishermen's Union (Talfu) and National Certificated Fishing And Allied Workers Union (Ncfawu), said the offer from the industry is an “insult” to the working class, in particular the sea-going employees who they said are are risking their lives on a daily basis, braving the bad weather at sea for the survival of their employers.

Fishing operations were declared and classified as essential services during lockdown in terms of the regulations issued to give effect to the declaration of a State of National Disaster and have continued to operate throughout the lockdown period.

The unions entered the negotiations with a 15% salary increase demand on the table but have since moved down to 10.5% while employers are only offering 4.5%.

The Secretary of Organised Labour, Zolani Mbanjwa said the deadlocked talks will not only impact the sea-going sector, but also the processing sector as they depend on fishermen to have fish for processing.

“Approximately 6 600 South Africans are employed by the hake deep-sea trawling industry, either on fishing vessels, at land-based processing plants or in a range of management, administrative or supportive roles,” he said.

File image.

With talks having deadlocked, the parties have now entered a two-week period where an amicable solution must be found to avoid strike action.

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The employers, Oceana Group, Vikings Fishing Group, I&J, Basani Marine & the Sea Harvest Corporation, referred all queries to the bargaining council, which confirmed that the parties of the 2021 Deep-sea Negotiations, in the Fishing Industry Bargaining Council commenced annual substantive negotiations on August 5.

General Secretary: Bargaining Council for the Fishing Industry, Victoria Hanmer said after four sessions the parties were deadlocked and are currently exploring alternatives in attaining a resolution.

Mbanjwa said on the first day of negotiations Organised Labour moved from 15% to 12% effective July 1, - one year agreement.

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The South African Fishing Industry Employer Organisation, Safieo in turn made a move of 3.5% to 3.75% and that agreement would be in place for one year. At the end of the third day the offer on the table from the unions was 10.5% but Safieo would not budge from its 4.5% offer.

Mbanjwa added that workers remain committed to feeding the nation and that they , are encouraged to remain operational during the challenging times.

“Undoubtedly, we are negotiating in an extremely trying time for employees as Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe.

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“I am concerned about the morale of employees in these difficult times of putting themselves in the war zone of the pandemic and working tirelessly to serve the people of South Africa.

“Employees are the heart and soul of productions and their commitment to serve the country as an essential service during this critical time has been nothing short of extraordinary, and for that reason I am appealing for a reasonable increase during these unprecedented times,” he said.

Mbanjwa said the chief executive of South Africa’s largest fishing company, the Oceana Group Ltd, was on record as having recently advised that he was “delighted with our improved performance into April and May (2020) and we’ve recorded very good demand for all of our products”.

Revenue return to Oceana for the six month period ending, March 31, 2020 improved by 3% to R3 630 000 000 with gross profit improving by 9% to R605 000 000.

Revenue return to the Sea Harvest Group Ltd for the year ending December 31, 2019, improved by 54% to R3 966 452 000 with gross profit improving by 40% to R1 270 815 000.

The improvement in Sea Harvest’s cash flow is, amongst others, attributed to; a 10% increase in the total allowable catch for hake; and Sea Harvest and empowerment partners acquisition of; 100% of the shares in Viking Fishing Holdings (Pty) Ltd and 51% of Viking Aquaculture (Pty) Ltd with effect from July 2, 2018 at a purchase price of R855 000 000; 100% of the shares in Ladismith Cheese Company (Pty) Ltd with effect from 2 August 2018 at a purchase price of R527 000 000.

The unions say if the employers can boast about figures like these, their demands can and should be met.

The Saturday Star

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