Tyre manufacturer and workers reach a stalemate as illegal industrial action enters fourth week

Tyre manufacturing company Sumitomo Rubber South Africa in Ladysmith. Picture: Supplied

Tyre manufacturing company Sumitomo Rubber South Africa in Ladysmith. Picture: Supplied

Published May 23, 2023


If you are in the market to buy a new set of Dunlop tyres, chances are that they soon might be out of stock due to a protracted strike by workers.

Last week the Labour Court of South Africa handed down an interim court interdict in favour of tyre manufacturer, Sumitomo Rubber South Africa (SRSA), the manufacturers of Dunlop tyres.

This means that the industrial action initiated by the union NUMSA on April 25 at the SRSA’s plant in Ladysmith, is illegal.

Though that is the case, the workers have been striking ever since as SRSA and the workers have not reached an agreement.

The workers, among other things, are calling for suspension of personnel in management, who they accuse of ill treating the employees.

Tyre manufacturing company Sumitomo Rubber South Africa in Ladysmith. Picture: Supplied

SRSA workers representative from NUMSA Henry Myenze, said they were unhappy with how the management has been treating their workers, although not willing to specify how and what they had exactly done to them.

“We call for the suspension of the company CEO and production director who have been mistreating our workers who are working very hard and have always been loyal to the company, but seemingly they (management), have no sympathy nor humanity.

“With the current shifts, workers are being paid peanuts, as they earn R105 a week after deductions which is unfair to them. They have dedicated their time to the company, and with the current state of the economy, no one can survive with that amount of money,” said Myende.

He said there were worried about the delay in production, but were not willing to go back to work, not until their concerns were heard and met.

Sumitomo Rubber South Africa CEO Lubin Ozoux. Picture: Supplied

In a statement issued by the company, SRSA CEO Lubin Ozoux said that they have continuously reached out to their employees via established communication channels, urging them to return to work at their Ladysmith tyre manufacturing plant, and have been reminded that the “No Work-No Pay” policy applies.

“In the interim court order, the Labour Court said SRSA proved that the strike was a threat to the business.

“The direct result of the strike is that manufacturing has come to a halt. The applicant’s ability to fulfil its business obligations is threatened. The resultant financial loss poses a real threat to the livelihoods of its employees and its ability to continue operating.

“At present, we are disheartened that the protracted industrial action has resulted in a halt to our operations and production at the facility. We are fully invested in the community of Ladysmith, celebrating 50 years of operation at the plant this year.

“In 2022, SRSA contributed a total of R743m to the Ladysmith community in terms of salaries, electricity, local services, and related taxes. For SRSA to not be operational in the town of Ladysmith is detrimental to the entire economy of the town, and not just to employees.

“But more so, we are saddened that the actions by protesting employees have impacted upon, not just employees who dedicatedly arrive for work over the past few weeks, but the Ladysmith community at large,” said Ozoux.

“The union has accused SRSA of undermining it and has made demands for the suspension of three senior SRSA executives, but did not provide reasons for this demand. Additionally, the judge ruled that this demand has no factual basis.

“NUMSA has also called for the immediate reversal of the current shift configuration, despite that having been a binding agreement concluded between SRSA and NUMSA in February 2021. We reached a deadlock in negotiations with NUMSA due to an ongoing disciplinary process involving NUMSA-affiliated SRSA employees, but we are confident that we have followed all due process in this matter so far,” he said.

Ozoux said the company was hopeful that employees would return, but failing which, SRSA would take further steps to continue with the dismissal process.

“We urge employees to return to work immediately, failure of which, we will be forced to take further action to ensure sustainability of operations at the plant. We will explore options of fair dismissal and advertise positions to people eager to gain employment. Our aim, first and foremost, is to find a solution and get the plant back to full operation,” he said.

“We understand there is a lot of uncertainty in the local community about the strike and safety when passing by the plant. We are working closely with SAPS to ensure safety, but we urge residents and drivers to be careful,” said Ozoux.