Union members blamed for Ceres factory blaze

2015-09-18 21:00
The Ceres fruit factory that had been set alight. (Julian Jansen, Twitter)

The Ceres fruit factory that had been set alight. (Julian Jansen, Twitter)

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Cape Town - Ceres Fruit Growers (CFG) says members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) are behind the blaze which left its factory gutted.

It said despite claims by Fawu that their members were not involved, it had established that two of the three arrested for arson belonged to the union.

Fawu has, however, said it had not yet been "tested" whether the two were in fact members.

The trio was arrested and charged with arson after the factory was set alight amid strike action on Wednesday.

Workers in the area have been striking for almost two weeks, demanding a wage increase.

In a statement, CFG said it had been engaging with the union in annual wage negotiations since July. No agreement has yet been reached.

Fawu wants a 12.5% wage increase and a profit-sharing scheme for workers. 

But representatives for the company said they believed the offer of 7.5% and other increased benefits was fair "given the economic environment in South Africa to ensure a sustainable future for all".

Reports of threats and intimidation

CFG managing director Francois Malan said the company’s intent was to act in good faith.

"We have already conceded and moved our position, but we cannot offer more than is sustainable for us to do so.

"The CCMA Commissioner agreed that our final offer to Fawu was fair and encouraged the shop stewards to promote our offer to their membership. Despite this being an illegal strike, we agreed that we would not pursue the legality of it which would impact the payout of other benefits and conditions of employment," he said.

“We further offered to pay the 7.5% increase on the basic wage retrospectively from August 1, and additionally offered a once-off bonus."

The destruction of the building on Wednesday resulted in millions of rands in damages.

He said despite numerous calls to the police for protection, stone-throwing protesters prevented the fire from being extinguished.

A concrete boundary fence was also destroyed. 

Reports of threats and intimidation against employees who were currently working and who wanted to work have been confirmed, the company said.  

"This is a very unfortunate situation as the law allows employees to go on strike or not to participate in strike action."

'We have to find a peaceful and positive resolution'

Malan added that the longer the stalemate continued, "the deeper the rifts in our internal relationships". 

“The longer the strike continues, the bigger the losses for all. We have to find a peaceful and positive resolution. Our door is always open to talks and to negotiations, but not to criminal acts of violence and intimidation."

Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said the two suspects’ union membership had not yet been tested.

"Either way, we do not condone the damage of any property or violence of any kind as it results in the loss of public sympathy," he said.

Masemola said he took the company’s claims of intimidation "with a pinch of salt as about 90% of workers are taking part in the strike".

"It would be stupid to intimidate those who are working and who choose to work. If however there have been isolated incidents, we call on workers to stop this conduct immediately," he said.

Read more on:    cape town  |  farms  |  strike action  |  crime

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