Weeks of wage negotiations between eight agricultural companies and co-operatives and their employees have failed for six of them.
The unions representing the employees said that there was no option left other than to go on strike after the six employers refused to approve an 8% wage increase across the board for the lowest wage grades, namely grades one to 11.
“The employers have been very arrogant. They don’t want to co-operate,” said Sipho Khumalo, bargaining secretary for the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU). “The 8% increase we are demanding is actually very little if you take into consideration that inflation is around 6,1%. We’re talking peanuts.”
FAWU accused MGK, GWK, OVK, Senwes, Suidwes and NWK of attempting to intimidate employees into signing agreements accepting increases ranging from 6,5% to 7,5% and claimed it has documents proving this.Julius Mano, national co-ordinator for the National Union of Food, Beverage, Wine, Spirits and Allied Workers, said he was disgusted.
“The employers are taking advantage of their employees’ level of education by coercing them to sign documents that they don’t understand,” he told Farmer’s Weekly. While Khumalo said that he’s still collecting figures on how many FAWU members would be striking and Mano said his union had about 400 members at these six companies and co-ops, both men agreed that their members would not back down until their 8% wage increase demand is met.
Sello Baloyi, general secretary of the Grain Bargaining Council (GBC), said he’s trying to encourage the parties to keep negotiating to limit the potential negative effects of strike action. He added that, if necessary, the GBC would ask the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to intervene.
VKB and NTK were the only co-ops to agree to the 8% increase. When approached for comment on the failed negotiations, five of the six companies facing strike action were either unwilling or unavailable to respond. OVK’s director for fincance, Stefan Oberholzer, said strike action had already begun at one of his company’s outlets and involved a maximum of 50 FAWU members.
“There are not even 20 that actually want to strike,” he claimed. “They were blocking the entrance and so the police ordered them to move. “We don’t anticipate strike action across the rest of our operations,” added Oberholzer. He declined to comment when asked about trade union allegations that companies had been intimidating workers.
Meanwhile, Solidarity, the third trade union involved in the wage negotiations, said its members might also soon join the strike action at the six employers. The union is just waiting for a mandate from its members at the companies to declare a strike action.
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