Simba factory workers down tools over “unfair” transport deductions

Groundup reports that tension remains high at Simba’s factories in Isando and Elandsfontein, Gauteng on Thursday after workers downed tools and were briefly prevented from protesting outside on Wednesday. Most workers returned to work on Thursday. On Thursday afternoon, Simba approached the Labour Court in Braamfontein for an urgent interdict against workers, the Simunye Workers’ Forum and the Casual Workers’ Advice Office, to stop them from “participating, instigating or promoting” an unprotected strike at its premises. They also want the court to declare the strike unlawful. According to representatives from the Simunye Workers’ Forum, 217 labour broker workers who were employed by Adcorp Blu were absorbed as permanent workers by Simba in 2018. Simunye said that part of the settlement agreement made at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was that workers would get free transport, paid for by Simba to and from pick-up points or at the employees’ homes.

“Workers later discovered that Simba was deducting R16 per day from each worker for the transport, instead of providing it for free. These deductions were not even listed on the payslip. The workers have been in a long-standing battle to have this money returned and free transport reinstated,” Simunye said in a statement on Wednesday. Worker representatives claim that other employees who became permanent before 2018 were not paying for transport which had caused division and unhappiness.

More than 200 workers then decided to down tools this week after Simba had cancelled the transport and instead offered a once-off payment of R30,000 if they agreed to accept this as a full and final settlement as backpay and for any future transport costs. This offer was made in April during negotiations, according to Simunye. While waiting for the CCMA to set a date to hear the matter, more than 200 workers at Simba’s Isando factory workers refused to work on Wednesday morning. The Labour Court in Braamfontein on Thursday granted an urgent interim interdict against striking workers at Simba’s factories in Isando and Elandsfontein. According to the order, the workers are interdicted from “continuing with, participating in, instigating or promoting the unlawful and unprotected strike action”. The Casual Workers Advice Office and Simunye Workers Forum, which represent the workers, are ordered to “publically call” on workers to abandon the strike action via “loudhailer” and SMS.

Deborah-Ann Sharwood, spokesperson for Pepsico, Simba’s parent company, told GroundUp that the allegation by workers that the company has been deducting money from their salaries for transport is false. According to Simba’s court papers, the free transport arrangement is currently being phased out due to affordability constraints. Simba claims that it has conducted thorough consultations with employees and has come to an agreement with most employees. The agreement is that eligible employees will be paid a lump sum of up to R30,000 each when the free transport service is stopped. The transport arrangement will only be stopped on 1 January 2024, according to the court papers. The Casual Workers Office Advice told GroundUp they are preparing answering papers to challenge the interdict.

by Kimberly Mutandir & Daneil Steyn

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