Simba workers on strike over unlawful deductions

About 200 workers are on strike at Simba's main plant and warehouse in Gauteng over deductions from their wages for transport that was meant to be free. Photo by Simon Ramapuputla

The workers say Simba has unlawfully been deducting money for transport for the last six years. The company has agreed with the two registered unions at its plant and warehouse, to pay a once-off R30,000 compensation to each worker.

Workers at Simba’s main plant in Isando and warehouse in Elandsfontein have downed tools against the company for unilaterally changing the conditions of employment. According to Simunye Workers’ Forum, the company has been unlawfully deducting money for the past six years from their wages for transport even though there was an agreement on free transport arranged and paid for by Simba for those working night shift. “Workers later discovered that Simba was deducting R16 per day from each worker for the transport, instead of providing it free,” reads the statement from Simunye, whose status as a workers union is being appealed by the Department of Labour.

Steven Mmila, a worker at Simba says the company has now cancelled the transport allowance and offered employees a once-off payment of R30,000 for all workers instead. Mmila told Elitsha that the workers have rejected the offer and they can only accept an offer of R250,000. Fair treatment from management is one of the workers’ demands, he says, adding that their salaries had to be adjusted to reflect their workload. Workers also do not want the ‘hap app’, introduced by the company to pay their overtime.

Jacob Potlaki from Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) says the workers demand that the company refund the money that was unlawfully deducted or increase the amount they are offering as a full and final settlement to compensate them for the theft from their wages. The workers want the company to begin supplying free transport as agreed. “In 2018, we had a settlement agreement with Simba that they will provide free transport and provident fund for the employees. After five years, Simba is taking away transport allowance from workers. The company is still using cheap labour and they are running away from the law section 198 [requiring that] they take on workers permanently, but using labour brokers and paying them less money,” he said.

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There are two unions at Simba, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the Agricultural Food and Allied Democratic Workers Union (Afadwu), as well as the union in-effect, Simunye Workers Forum. Fawu and Afadwu, according to Potlaki, have agreed that the workers should accept the R30,000 once-off payment, and they signed on behalf of workers.

The R16 deductions were not listed on the pay slip, according to Simunye, concealing the theft.

In a letter by PepsiCo, the multinational company that owns Simba, directed to the Simunye Workers Forum, the company denies that it has unilaterally changed any terms and conditions of employment. “The Company has not unilaterally changed any terms and conditions of employment. A transport allowance, where granted, is discretionary and is not a term and condition of employment. This is clear from our contracts of employment. In any event no changes have been made to the salaries of any of the employees that you purport to represent. The transport allowance that you refer to is not
a term and condition of employment,” reads the letter, signed by Tshepo Naka, the employee relations manager.

In the letter, the company also confirms that it has reached an agreement with Fawu and Afadwu. “Your involvement in this matter is also surprising, given our engagements with the trade unions AFADWU and FAWU in respect of the transport allowance. The Company has consulted with the representative trade unions at Isando and PepsiCo Park regarding transport optimisation and has secured agreement with them to the phasing out of the transport allowance.”

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However, Afadwu said it did not agree to the R30,000 once-off payment and did not sign any settlement with the company. Fawu had not responded to Elitsha by the time of publication.

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