Digruntled Clover employees: ‘They are importing milk from occupied territories in Palestine’

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Members of the General Industries Workers Union of SA picketed outside the Clover head office in Roodepoort. Photo: Rosetta Msimango/City Press
Members of the General Industries Workers Union of SA picketed outside the Clover head office in Roodepoort. Photo: Rosetta Msimango/City Press


“Imagine someone’s salary that is a little over R4 500 being cut down by 30%. In my case, it is a 30% salary cut. So imagine if they cut my salary by 30%. What is going to happen in the future?”

So said Christo Rantete, a general worker at Clover, as scores of disgruntled Clover workers staged a protest outside Clover Park in Roodepoort on Thursday.

Members of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa were locked outside of Clover Park, with heavily armed security guards on site. Photo: Rosetta Msimango/City Press

The 40-year-old said the Clover employees deserved better as workers who had “built this company from scratch”.

We took it to where it is now. We feel that we have been treated badly especially when those restructuring measures are not applied at the top executive level. They only want to implement salary cuts for workers in lower positions,” said Rantete.

This week’s picket came amid an unwelcome visit by the dairy giant’s Israeli shareholder.

The General Industries Workers Union of SA (Giwusa) was marching against the Israeli Central Bottling Company, which owns Milco SA, a majority shareholder of Clover.

The workers strongly disapprove of the offered wage cuts as an alternative to Clover’s planned retrenchments. The protracted protest is as a result of collapsed salary negotiations between unions, Clover management, and the department of trade, industry and competition on retrenchments and wage cuts.

“After 30 years of working at Clover, an employee earns between R10 000 and R13 000 and they want to cut that by 60%. That would bring their salary down to between R6 000 and R8 000. Imagine someone living in a shack in Tembisa, in the best-case scenario, a backroom, and having 10 dependants on that salary. How can we agree on such a settlement?” questioned Giwusa president Mametlwe Sebei.

Striking Clover workers flocked the main entrance at the head office. Clad in their red union T-shirts, they picketed and sang while heavily armed security guards manned the gates and police vans parked on the side of the road.

The Food and Allied Workers Union and Giwusa embarked on a strike against the dairy giant on November 22 last year over austerity measures that would see Clover employ fewer workers who would be required to work longer hours for less money.

Meanwhile, Ayesha Rajah from Sofasonke Civic Organisation also came out to support the protesting workers.

“How do you put food on your table when Clover is bought over by an Israeli company that then comes into our country and retrenches workers, closes factories and, instead of buying milk from our farmers, they are importing milk from occupied territories in Palestine?” asked Rajah.

She said they saw the strike as one struggle – a fight against imperialism. She said:

We will always be where there is a fight by the workers for a living wage. Millions of people are unemployed. We as the working class can’t keep up. We are being squeezed from all sides.

More than 250 Clover workers have now occupied the offices of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to demand that they buy out the Central Bottling Company/Milco of Clover.

The workers are requesting financial support as they sleep over at IDC offices in Sandton.

Breakdown of negotiations between Clover and unions

Clover group manager legal and secretarial Steven Velthuysen said the negotiations between Clover and unions were far from being settled. The company participated in four meetings initiated by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi over the past two weeks.

Velthuysen said: 

Unfortunately, the meetings ended in another stalemate. We again reiterate our previous calls that the union leadership showed no bona fide intent to settle this current wage dispute. The company again showed its commitment by presenting further concessions – but, again, these were outrightly rejected by the unions,

He added that the Giwusa president and its general secretary, John Appolis, did not attend the last two meetings and did not extend any apologies for not doing so. “It is clear that the striking employee’s interest is not their main priority.”

When asked about the meeting with the Israeli Central Bottling Company, he said no such meeting had taken place and Clover did not know where the union had received that information from.

READ: Unions claim Clover hired hitmen to attack striking workers

Velthuysen dispelled allegations of Clover’s importation of milk and called them absurd. “We buy our milk from Dairy Farmers of SA, which procures the milk from local farmers.”

Expert opinion

University of the Free State senior lecturer of sociology Dr Sethulego Matebesi said the Clover strike showed the vulnerability of South African workers.

“Despite a liberal labour legislative regimen and active and vibrant trade unionism, workers still face many challenges. A typical example that demonstrates how far we are as a country in our efforts to address workers’ social, economic and political challenges is how workers – particularly those at malls – are expected to spend their lunch breaks under trees.”

Matebesi said another concern for workers was that unions had become too close to or entangled in politics.

As a result, our unions have become weaker over the years.

He added that unfortunate events, such as the Marikana tragedy, were bound to be repeated because the priorities of union leaders were elsewhere. Matebesi explained that violence becomes a norm during strikes when the strikers encounter attempts to restrict and suppress their industrial action.

“This is mainly when the police become heavy-handed in their approach to suppress the strike. We should also consider the role of social media in generating outrage.”

READ: Violent minority? Clover puts unions on notice over bloodshed as talks continue

Matebesi added: “The longer any strikes take, the more emboldened and frustrated the strikers become. Often, group dynamics take over where strikers, who are on their own, will never participate in violent acts, suddenly see violence as an alternative to peaceful demonstrations.”


Delivering the 

news you need

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Latest issue
Latest issue
All the news from City Press in PDF form.
Read now
Voting Booth
Stats SA's recent consumer price index data this week indicated the rise in food prices was the largest in 14 years. Economists say continued load shedding also adds to the rise in the cost of food production. How are you feeding your family during this tough time?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I have a food garden
7% - 52 votes
I rely on sales
21% - 160 votes
I buy necessities
72% - 539 votes