Getting economic development minister Ebrahim Patel to muscle in and stop factory closures and job losses at Clover, was worker unions’ “only way” to try and save the jobs of more than a thousand Clover workers facing imminent unemployment. The attempt failed and now workers at four factories are at risk of losing their jobs as early as the first quarter of 2022, according to union representatives.
General Industries Workers’ Union of South Africa (Giwusa) president Mametlwe Sebei tells Food For Mzansi, “About four factories are due to close at the beginning of the year, which will result in a 1000 workers losing their jobs.”
One of the production units expected by unions to be closed is the Lichtenburg plant in North West, which is the biggest cheese factory. “Smaller towns like Lichtenburg are going to suffer devasting effects should this closure go ahead. Same as Frankfort, Hebron and in the Free State,” he says.
According to Sebei, a call to government to step in was the only way they could save over a thousand jobs. However, they were told during a recent meeting at Patel’s office that the state could not interfere in Clover’s business.
But unions are far from giving up and plan to escalate workers’ concerns. A mass meeting of union members is now planned for Saturday, 8 January 2022 in Johannesburg.
Consequences for consumers
Workers at Clover have been on strike since November 2021 over retrenchments and restructuring such as contracted work weeks and salary cuts. Workers place the blame for this on Clover’s acquisition by Milco SA, a consortium that includes Israel’s Central Bottling Company.
Reports put the number of workers who were retrenchment without prior consultation at 758. Since then, more than 5 000 workers at Clover have downed tools.
In December organised agriculture expressed concern that the industrial action could hamper the production of clover products during the holiday season.
Milk Producers Organisation chairperson Colin Wellbeloved said all industrial action has negative effects on the industry and the Clover strike was also going to have an impact. “All strike action has negative consequences for producers and consumers alike. I understand that Clover has contingencies in place, but the strike will surely disrupt some production.”
Wellbeloved further said the dairy industry is well organised and that no shortage of any milk-related products in the country is expected. “The South African dairy industry is highly organised and it is very unlikely that there could be an acute shortage of products any time soon.”
A call to boycott Clover products
Meanwhile Food and Allied Workers Union organiser Cynthia Joyce says they have over 700 members affected by the decision by the company to do salary cuts by 20% as well as retrenchments.
Joyce says workers are strongly apposed to the company’s new cost-cutting and restructuring measures as these only apply to ordinary workers and not to management.
She calls on South Africans to boycott Clover products so that the company could “feel the pinch of what the workers were going through”.
In a previous joint statement, the two unions also called on members of society to stand in solidarity with workers. “Workers are fighting a ruthless 122-year-old untransformed company which is attempting to shift the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic to its most vulnerable workers despite a recent investment by Milco of R4 billion. Clover is subjecting workers to brutal austerity measures to squeeze every bit of profit possible.”
According to Sebei the actions by Clover not only affect union members but communities at large. “We are striking to save the jobs of our members but also communities that depend on Clover for their local economies.”
Despite various requests for comment by Food For Mzansi, Clover has not responded by the time of publication.
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