Country Bird Holdings has refuted claims that it intends to close its North West-based abattoir and shed up to 2 000 jobs, labelling media reports about an impending closure as fake news.
A union representative has also confirmed to Food For Mzansi that no employees have contacted them about possible job losses. A press briefing on the issue, by premier Bushy Maape, is set for today (Wednesday, 3 November 2021) at 12:00.
In a statement released by Country Bird Holdings late on Tuesday night, chief executive officer Brendon de Boer said they had no plans to close down their Mahikeng plant. This, after news channel eNCA had reported on Monday that the company was threatening to relocate, prompting North West provincial government officials to call an urgent meeting with company management.
The agribusiness says it is unfortunate that it has been dragged into election day politics at the expense of employees.
It further states that it does engage with government – just like any stakeholder in its position would do.
“These engagements are focused on working together to resolve any issues and planning the future,” said De Boer.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Jenny Hibbert, personal assistant to the CEO, said employees were shocked and stressed at the “news” that their jobs were on the line without there having been proper consultation.
She indicated their disapproval at the manner in which the story was dealt with without engaging Country Bird Holdings.
Ripple effect of the news
Meanwhile, nervousness at the news rippled beyond just employees. The African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) in North West has called on Country Bird Holdings to initiate a phase-out approach should they plan to move out of the province amid concerns on service delivery.
The secretary-general of Afasa, Kobedi Pilane, told Food For Mzansi that members reacted with shock at the reports that another company wanted to relocate to escape the ailing economy of North West. Clover had announced earlier this year that the country’s biggest cheese factory was to be relocated from the embattled Ditsobotla local municipality to KwaZulu-Natal, due to ongoing poor service delivery.
Pilane had spoken to Food For Mzansi before the closure reports were refuted, and had said it would be important for the company to start with a transfer of skills to black poultry farmers, with a focus on securing the 2 000 jobs at stake, should the closure of the company become a reality.
“We do not have a problem with Country Bird to move or to relocate. However, we are calling for fair skills transfer to capable black people to take over. We cannot sit and not do anything when there is a shortage of poultry.
“We as African poultry producers have got a master plan that will ensure that there is a continuous supply of poultry farming in the province. The master plan we have is designed in a way to ensure that there is transformation in the sector and [it] challenges the status quo.”
Pilane further explained that all stakeholders affected should work together to make sure that jobs are saved, and the economy of the province gets rejuvenated. This, as there was still a huge need for poultry farming in the province.
Everyone affected by poor service delivery
“We are equally affected as black farmers, we continuously maintain our vehicles because the roads are in a poor state,” Pilane continued about the level of service delivery in the province. “We also fix our generators because Eskom cannot be trusted. Electricity is not stable anymore,” he said.
Pilane also appealed to government to implement policies such as the District Development Model, which seeks to assist ailing municipalities in the province to provide basic services. He said aspects such as corruption, maladministration and mismanagement of funds needed to be addressed with a sense of urgency.
“Generally, we are all dealing with the same challenges. However, there is a need to come up with innovative ways of securing jobs and keeping doors open, such as renewable energy and better ways of getting water,” he said.
All-hands-on-deck approach needed
Meanwhile, Motlapele Morule, a farmer in North West, said the provincial department of agriculture could do better to improve the lives and working conditions of farmers in general.
“Speaking for farmers specifically, there is not enough assistance by the province in terms of infrastructure development, equipment, working capital, market access and security. These are some of the few challenges the farmers are facing,” he says.
Morule says the department’s officials needed to put their hands on deck by reaching out to farmers and helping those in need in any way possible.
Meeting with government
On Monday, Maape said that he would engage with Country Bird Holdings and other sectors of organised business in the province to establish close working relationships.
“Government has the responsibility to create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive, thus contributing to socio-economic development and to sustainable livelihoods within our communities,” Maape said.
“Engagements will soon commence together with the relevant components of government, to deal with issues of service delivery raised by Country Bird and to seek lasting solutions.”
Following Clover’s relocation announcement earlier this year, the provincial government set up a task team of MECs to investigate the matter, with a focus on securing jobs in the small town which is popular for agriculture.
North West municipalities have come under great scrutiny in the past moths with the Audito General’s report stating that all of the province’s 22 municipalities received qualified reports
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