SAB strike going nowhere quickly

2013-11-03 14:00

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The Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) is finding itself in an untenable situation. Its month-long strike at SA Breweries (SAB) has failed to force an improved offer?–?or even a meeting with management.

At the same time, SAB has obtained three interdicts against the union and its members while denouncing an alleged 72 incidents of violence or intimidation.

On Wednesday night, a non-striker’s house was petrol-bombed, marking an escalation of violence, says the brewer.

“We are keeping a list, which is currently with our investigators, and some of the cases are with the police,” says SAB spokesperson Robyn Chalmers.

On Friday, Fawu lashed out at “unfounded allegations”, but stopped short of an outright denial that the alleged violence was mostly against non-strikers at their homes.

“We’re not going to vehemently deny it, but we are asking for proof,” says Katishi Masemola, general secretary of the union.

“We really don’t have knowledge or proof of these incidents.”

SAB now says: “There is a campaign of violence being waged by a minority of union members against the company and its employees, which the union seems unable to stop.”

The parties have not met formally since October 16 and even that meeting was not really a bargaining session, says Masemola.

Chalmers says: “The last actual official negotiation meeting was ahead of the strike on Friday, September 27.”

With no negotiations taking place, the strike has dragged on past the important one-month point, meaning that everyone involved has missed a pay cheque.

However, SAB has drawn a line in the sand. It announced on Friday that it was willing to meet Fawu this week, but only to negotiate the return to work and not the wage offer.

The final offer made before the strike remains the only offer on the table and, ironically, Fawu does not see it as too low.

The drawn-out strike is mostly due to SAB being unwilling to negotiate the principle of performance-linked increases that discriminate between employees, says Masemola.

This year, that system gave most of the 2?800 workers in the bargaining unit a 7% increase.

According to the company, only 217 employees will receive less than 7% due to the performance-linked system, while another 865 will get between 0.5 and two extra percentage points.

Masemola said on Friday: “Seven percent could be a settlement?–?if it comes without the performance component.”

This is underscored by Fawu signing a 7% wage deal in another SAB department, the hops farm division, this week.

It is just the principle that is being fought against. Even though it has a small effect this year, it may be different in future, says Masemola.

According to SAB, the strike involves slightly more than 800 people, less than one-third of the bargaining unit.

More importantly, the brewer is adamant that the absence of 30% of the unit’s workers for a whole month has had very little practical effect on its production.

Temporary replacement labour and an internal contingency programme that moves employees from offices to the factory floor are helping to mitigate the impact.

But says Fawu: “Despite the company’s constant denialism, we know they are deeply affected by the absence of the majority of skilled and experienced staff.

“It is our understanding that casuals from hired labour-brokering services are currently amateurishly attempting to brew beer.”

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