Striking Nestlé workers adamant to continue with action

NUFBWSAW members have been on strike for the past six weeks. Photo by Johnnie Isaac

The global foods corporation is accused by the union of racism and unfair labour practices across all its operations in the country.

Members of the National Union of Food, Beverages, Wine, Spirits and Allied Workers (NUFBWSAW) at the Nestlé factory in East London have vowed to continue with their strike despite a court interdict. 

The company turned to the courts to interdict the strike after several alleged attacks against members of other unions in the same factory that are not involved in the strike. 

However, the striking union said there is no evidence that these attacks were carried out by their members and suggested that they would be too tired anyway to carry out attacks on their rivals since they have been involved in protest for the past six weeks. 

The strike emanates from failed wage talks between the union and their employer during September last year. 

The spokesperson for NUFBWSAW, Ndlelantle Ntanti, said the union proposed a wage increase of 7.5% which has since been revised down to 7%, and rejected the latest offer of 3.6% from the employer. 

NUFBWSAW also want the amendment of the collective wage agreement that was agreed upon between their rival Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and Nestlé in 2009. They are also seeking wage alignment for all Nestlé employees who are on the same grade but at different factories across the country and the payment of compensation for temporary total disability (TTD). 

Ntanti said: “We have agreed with the employer on the amendment of the 2009 collective wage agreement and on TTD, but unfortunately they could not budge on the wage increase and the wage alignment with other Nestlé factories. We are willing to compromise on our wage demand but not with the wage alignment because we have seen serious wage gaps between workers who are on the same level but are based in different provinces.”

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Ntanti said workers are yet to feel the impact of the strike because the company pays them in advance but they are prepared to bear the brunt of “no work no pay.” 

Workers also handed Nestlé management a memorandum where they called for the company to abolish labour brokers, put an end to racism in the company and stop wage disparities at the East London factory. “We have seen a kind of racism here at Nestlé where white employees continue to render services after they have resigned from the company – black people are not given such opportunities,” said Ntanti. 

Nestlé’s corporate communications and public affairs director, Saint-Francis Tohlang, denied the racism allegations. He said: “Racism has no place at Nestlé. At all times, we exercise sensitivity and fairness to protect the rights of all our employees.” 

Tohlang said workers can make use of internal mechanisms or one of two confidential reporting systems: a local hotline called the ‘Integrity Reporting System’ or a global hotline called ‘Speak Up.’ “All concerns reported through these reporting systems are taken seriously and investigated. We regularly raise awareness about these systems among employees in the company,” said Tohlang.

On the wage deadlock, Tohlang said the management of Nestlé conceded to some of the union’s demands, but has not been able to reach an agreement on a few disputed matters. He said the company had subsequently tabled a 3.6% increment as a further final offer which was rejected by NUFBWSAW. 

“In the current challenging economic environment and volatile trading conditions, management has tabled an offer of 3.6% which is linked to the 2020 inflation rate of 3.34%,” said Tohlang. From an affordability perspective, the company is not in a position to offer a 7% salary increase, he explained. “It is also important to highlight that two unions, namely AFADU and FAWU, have signed the offers with the company.”

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On the wage alignment issue, Tohlang said: “There were recent talks that resulted in a full analysis being conducted in 2019. Unfortunately the process could not be concluded as the discussions came to a standstill due to disagreement on the scope and proposed recommendations from the exercise.” He added that Nestlé applies a graded salary principle which means that workers are paid within a certain salary range determined by their job profile, irrespective of the site they work at.  

Tohlang said the company approached the courts to interdict the strike after reports of violence incidents and other non-adherence to picketing rules. He said the interdict was granted in favour of Nestlé and that it has since been served on NUFBWSAW.

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