Dairy giant Clover has withdrawn the bonuses of employees who began a protected strike on 22 November. This is a breach of the Labour Relations Act, which enshrines the right to protected strike action, saying that workers who choose to strike cannot be discriminated against. The act also states that employers cannot reward workers who choose not to exercise their right to strike.
In an email to Clover employees on 24 November, chief executive Johann Vorster wrote that only non-striking workers would get their 13th cheques this year. “These employees are positively contributing towards maintaining volume supply to the market and ensuring that the company limits its losses during this trying time. All other employees will not receive any bonus payments at this stage,” wrote Vorster.
Vorster would not explain the legal basis for Clover’s decision, stating only: “Clover has and will continue to act in line with all applicable labour laws.”
The strike by an estimated 4 000 workers from the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) is in its second week.
It began after a three-month dispute over Clover’s restructuring measures. The company wants to slash R300 million on labour costs by retrenching several hundred workers, cutting pay by 20%, introducing a six-day work week with compulsory work on public holidays and reducing the number of workers who offload dairy products to one per truck.
Milco SA, which is 60% owned by the Israeli Central Bottling Company, purchased Clover in 2019. The Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Coalition; the Workers and Socialist Party; and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance support the strike, saying, “Clover is milking the workers dry.”
The organisations held a solidarity rally with Clover workers in Thembisa on 27 November. In a joint letter to Ebrahim Patel, a former union general secretary and now minister of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, they asked for the government to ensure the divestment of Milco from South Africa.
“We demand that Clover must remain a strong sustainable South African company. This is possible with the assistance and commitment of the South African government”, organisers wrote. “We hope that the government will realise that the takeover of Clover by Milco was a disastrous decision that prejudices the country and working class of South Africa.”
The organisations want Clover to withdraw all austerity measures and to give workers a 10% wage increase.
Fawu and Giwusa say a further 822 workers could lose their jobs in February if Clover proceeds with plans to relocate its City Deep branch to Boksburg. Clover also plans to close down three factories in the North West and the Free State.