Sunday, August 14, 2022

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

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Clover employees picket outside CCMA offices on January 10, 2021 in Johannesburg.

Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo

  • Clover says it has received a commitment from striking unions to stand against violent attacks at its operations.
  • Clover spokesperson Steven Velthuysen said there have been no further killings since two security personnel died.
  • He said the 869 employees that are on strike at Clover make up 11.5% of the company’s total workforce.

As dairy producer Clover continues to operate under the spectre of recent bloodshed, it says it has received a commitment from striking unions to stand against violence at its operations, following the deaths of two security personnel since the strike began late last year.

Along with a commitment to stand against deadly violence from unions, Clover has also held multiple meetings with labour and the Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi, seeking a solution to the attacks. While Clover blamed striking unions for the violence, the unions have denied involvement in the violence.

Clover said it had increased its security presence at its Olifantsfontein operation since Fidelity security guard Tsephe Molatsi and Personal Protection Service official Terence Tegg were killed by assailants while guarding Clover’s operations.

Last week, Nkosinathi Mbatha and Mohale Shokane appeared in the Tembisa Magistrate’s Court and were charged with the murder of Tegg as well as attempted murder and robbery. The South African Police Service (SAPS) is investigating Molatsi’s killing.

Clover spokesperson Steven Velthuysen told Fin24 that there had been no further incidents since the attack on Tegg and that Clover has had weekly meetings with the SAPS leadership to update on the violence and measures implemented to prevent it. 

“The SAPS have also increased their presence in high-risk areas. Management, the unions, and [the] minister of labour met on Sunday evening to discuss the ongoing violence and measures to prevent any further issues,” said Velthuysen.

Velthuysen said there was a “firm commitment” from the unions that they did not condone violence and that they would also communicate this to their members on strike. He said striking employees were in the minority, as 869 employees on strike made up 11.5% of the company’s workforce.

He said 207 of the workers on strike were members of the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU), while 551 of the employees on strike with from the General Industries Workers’ Union of South Africa (Giwusa), and 111 of the striking employees did not belong to any union. He said Clover had increased security at the Olifantsfontein operation.

“On Friday we met with the police commissioner of the Ekurhuleni district as well as other high-ranking SAPS officials to put a plan of action together for increased protection, and action to be taken to identify and then bring those responsible to justice,” Velthuysen said.

He said Clover had continuously engaged with unions on the violence, which have been met with denials, even though strikers involved in the violence last week were addressed by a union official. 

“We also have clear video footage that can identify striking workers affiliated to the unions. We are very disappointed that the unions are refusing to take any responsibility at all. It’s a disgrace and an insult to the surviving families,” he said.

He said Clover would not allow violent criminals to hold the company to ransom at the expense of hardworking people. He added that the company’s supply chain was “robust” and able to secure reliable supply to customers throughout the strike disruptions.

FAWU deputy secretary general Moloko Phakedi said the union was never aware that there would be intimidation of Clover employees during the strike. 

He said where violence occurred in close proximity to union members, FAWU had asked for information and evidence of the union’s involvement but no one had come forward with anything.

“We have been trying to encourage members to open cases at police stations, as the situation that ordinary workers are living in does not allow workers the luxury to hire security and weapons,” he said.

Phakedi said Clover had not cooperated with union requests during discussions but has created a “catastrophic” environment while “treating discussions on the violence a deadly work environment as a negotiation”.

He said FAWU had asked for information on the pay packages of all employees to figure out how to avert salary cuts, but that the employer refused, frustrating union efforts to resolve disputes. He said FAWU’s next meeting with Clover was set to take place on Thursday.

During a briefing on Monday, Minister Nxesi told reporters that the department held several discussions with Clover and unions to end the violence. 

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