Blood bath as Rainbow job hopes fade

The blood bath in the poultry industry has gathered pace, with almost 800 jobs set to be lost at RCL Foods’ Camperdown plant in KwaZulu-Natal.

Japhta Malinga, provincial organiser at the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu), told City Press on Friday the union was “hopeful” that the offer of severance packages and relocations would “save as many jobs as possible” at RCL Foods, formerly Rainbow Chicken.

Malinga said that, of the 272 affected workers at RCL’s Hammarsdale farms, 243 indicated they would take packages, as did 113 of 310 production plant workers whose jobs were under threat.

A further 175 would do the same at another RCL farm, while about 70% of the remaining workers had shown a willingness to relocate.

In summary, out of the 778 RCL staff expected to lose their jobs, 531 people have taken packages and 247 workers face forced retrenchment – while an additional 577 employees will take the relocation option.

Malinga said relocation terms and allowances were being negotiated with management.

“The majority of those who took packages have been with the firm for some time and many only have a year or two left [before retirement age],” he said.

“Most of those who remain are young and have only joined the firm since 2012 or 2013. Of these, about 70% are willing to relocate.”

RCL management declined to comment on the process, but last month CEO Miles Dally said the company had taken the decision to retrench in the face of losses caused by the sale of 27 500 tons of imported chicken a month in South Africa.

In September, RCL issued a notice of intention to retrench the 1 355 workers – in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act – because of losses incurred from the dumping of cheap imported chicken and drought-driven high feed costs.

However, the union proposed a combination of voluntary severance packages and staff relocations to fill vacant posts at RCL farms in other parts of the country to try to save some jobs – with the company indicating it would agree to this.

At the same time, Fawu has approached provincial and national government to assist in setting up skills programmes for workers taking packages. This to ensure they can survive after their lump sum payments – three weeks’ wages for every year served – are spent, and to purchase farms, which RCL intends selling to offset its losses.

Fawu hopes that, in the long run, the farms could be repurposed for livestock or crop production with assistance from the agriculture, trade and industry, and economic development sectors.

This could help to offset the effect of job losses at RCL and other companies in the area.

On November 22, Fawu and RCL management will meet as part of a process mediated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Fawu will report back on the response of workers to the proposed relocation and severance packages, which were presented to them this week in a meeting at RCL’s Hammarsdale plant.

More section 189 layoffs are looming at Astral Poultry, owner of the Goldi and Mountain Valley chicken brands, which employs 1 500 workers at its Hammarsdale operation. The company issued an intention to serve notice on Fawu this month.

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