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2022-01-11

Unions score a win against Clover, getting group to pay delayed bonuses

Unions at Clover SA notched a win at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Monday (03/01/22), when they secured an agreement for the company to pay an overdue thirteenth cheque to employees.


Khulekani Magubane and Penelope Mashego | Fin24

However, unions at the dairy producer will continue to strike until the company reinstates retrenched staff as well as those dismissed, they say, for striking in October last year.

The General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) and Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) led a picket at Clover, with the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).

Among the demands of the strikers are the re-instatement of all retrenched workers as well as those dismissed at the Empangeni operation, the scrapping 20% salary cuts, disinvestment from the Israeli company Central Bottling Company (CBC) and the nationalisation of Clover SA under workers' control.

CBC owns Clover via its subsidiary Milco SA.

Fawu said in a bid to demoralise striking workers, Clover was withholding the payment of their thirteenth cheque, which is usually paid to workers on the 25 November annually.

Giwusa secretary general John Appolis told Fin24 the union went to the CCMA over non-payment of the annual bonus and declared a dispute. 

"The CCMA agreed and the company also agreed to pay the bonuses by Friday 14 of January. We reached a settlement in the matter before we went into arbitration," said Appolis.

Appolis said the strike will continue and the payment of the bonus will serve as a boost for employees.

"On Thursday, we are going to the Department of Trade and Industry to hand over (a) memorandum. The nationalisation of Clover is still on  the agenda along with the disinvestment of CBC. We don't want any Israel-linked investment in the country, and certainly not in this case from Clover," Appolis said.

He said Giwusa believed that Clover were becoming "desperate", saying that on Friday the company sent SMS messages to workers asking that they return to work and end the strike. The union takes this as a sign that the strike is having the desired impact, he said.

Fawu said in a memorandum that the strike by itself and Giwusa was growing in support, especially in light of ongoing strife in Israel which has featured the displacement and detention of Palestinian people.

"The many supporting organisations, including the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, pledged their continued solidarity and commitment to intensify the boycott of Clover products and to provide support," the memorandum said.

Did Clover renege?

Last week, the Competition Commission confirmed that it is investigating whether Milco flouted its commitments to the competition authorities.

In 2019, the Competition Tribunal approved the R5 billion buyout of South Africa's largest dairy company by Milco, which has CBC as its majority shareholder.

The new owner committed to create 550 jobs within five years following the approval of the merger, and agreed to a moratorium on the retrenchment of 516 positions for a period of three years.

However, unions claim that 2 000 employees have been retrenched and that another 1 000 workers were vulnerable to job cuts.

Unions have been meeting with government as well as the competition authorities about the issue.

Clover SA would not provide comment to Fin24 beyond a statement it shared last week, in which it said it faced a difficult trading cycle for several years, where economic growth has been poor, costs have generally been rising above inflation and consumer spending has been subdued.

"Covid-19 has added to these pressures and the uncertainty faced. For these reasons, a comprehensive strategic review of all aspects of Clover's business was undertaken, which led to the difficult decision to restructure," the statement said.

In last week's statement it had explored all possible avenues to minimise retrenchments and ensure that the process was fair.

In June last year, Clover closed South Africa's largest cheese factory in Lichtenburg due to "ongoing poor service delivery" by the local municipality.


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