Oceana to keep 'smelly' fishmeal factory open

Cape Town – Oceana [JSE:OCE] announced on Tuesday that it will no longer close down its controversial fishmeal factory in Hout Bay, which has been celebrated as a victory for the 98 affected employees.

“We’ve worked with labour, with national government and with local government to secure the future of the Hout Bay facility so that it can continue certainly for the coming five years,” Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel told Fin24 ahead of the announcement.

The Section 189 process is now officially over after Oceana signed a deal on Tuesday with its employees, which was facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The 189 had proposed relocating its employees to its St Helena Bay facility and closing the Hout Bay factory. This original plan will not go ahead as a result.

Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) national fishing sector organiser Zolani Mbanjwa said they were celebrating the victory on behalf of the workers.

“We said we will fight and we will not relax until Oceana confirms that the company is not closing and not moving to St Helena Bay,” he told Fin24 on Tuesday.

Oceana has not made profit at that factory in three years after cutting back its fishing days from 120 to 60, to quell growing anger from a group of residents who were unhappy with the smell that the factory was creating when in operation.

Oceana blamed its decision to pull out of Hout Bay in August on the group demanding the elimination of the smell.

However, it turned out there was a much larger and more vocal group who demanded that Oceana remain to ensure the community did not lose its jobs.

Kuttel said he was pleasantly surprised at the level of support from various stakeholders within Hout Bay as well as from local and national government.

“We came to the conclusion that there were a greater number of residents in Hout Bay that wanted us to stay, compared to the smell complaints,” he said.

During this process, Oceana has managed to renew its lease with the Department of Public Works for five years and confirmed its atmospheric licence with local government. Meanwhile, the deal signed on Tuesday will ensure the company can return to profitability, while satisfying employees' needs.

Signing the deal at Oceana's headquarters in Cape Town on Tuesday were (left to right) James Wichman (warehouse superintendent at Hout Bay), Zolani Mbanjwa (Fawu), Kevin Changoo (technical director of Lucky Star) and Pat Stone (commissioner at CCMA). Photo: Dayne Stern

“The company cannot afford to pay them like before, but there is a guarantee that they will get paid for two days a week if there is no fish and when there is fish, they can earn more,” said Mbanjwa.

The company will also increase its 60-day target back up to 120 to return to profitability. Kuttel also said Oceana would invest a further R11m in the facility, which will go into upgrading the technology to eliminate the smell as well as improving the production process.

A group of Hout Bay residents, called Fresh Air for Hout Bay, had laid official complaints of odour emissions by the Oceana operation. However, in a statement on its website it said it “has never supported the idea of the factory closing, but rather that the odour be eliminated, believing it negatively impacts life in the community and does not contribute to creating a positive environment for anyone”.

Kuttel said Oceana would continue to engage with the group to find way of reducing the smell and would welcome any future solutions that were agreed upon by the majority of the community.

Fresh Air for Hout Bay facilitator Kiara Worth said she would comment on the decision later on Tuesday.

WATCH: Interview with Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel

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