About 175 workers who are mostly members of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) have gone on strike at RCL Foods’ business unit Millbake over a wage dispute, forcing the consumer goods company to obtain an urgent court interdict to stop the go-slow.
Millbake is RCL’s largest milling and bread, flour and maize meal producer in the country.
According to the company’s Stephen Heath, the dispute has been going on for some time now and it had reached a deadlock with workers downing tools over management’s refusal to increase basic salaries to R9 000 and to R15 000 for those earning above R9 000 per month.
“We’re considering our options of taking further legal action against the unions in respect of losses suffered by the company as a result of the illegal strike action,” Heath said yesterday.
“We will also consider taking disciplinary action against the workers who went on strike. The strike is an unprotected and illegal one as the union hasn’t followed the proper procedures as set out in the Labour Relations Act.”
Heath added that the demand from the union was for an average salary increase of 112% which he said was neither reasonable nor possible.
“The dispute is over salary increases and has been ongoing for some time,” he said. “We had reached an increase offer of an average of 14% [which included contributions to medical aid and travel] and had a settlement agreement ready which we expected the union to sign, when they decided to go on strike.
“As a result of the illegal strike, we have withdrawn this offer and reverted to our original offer of 6%. We have, however, made individual offers to employees who don’t strike and want to accept the 14% and some have accepted this.”
According to the workers’ memorandum of demands sent to the company, the union argues that their demands were based on the rising cost of living, economic conditions and the impact this has on the disposable income of workers.
The NTUC is a trade union that acts as an intermediary between its members and the employer. The main purpose of this union is to give workers the power to negotiate for more favourable working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining occurs when a group of people, such as the workforce at a company, bands together to increase its negotiating power.
Heath said although the strike had caused some disruption, the company had contingency plans to put in place should the strike continue.
“The cost of the strike to us will only be known after the event depending how long it endures for,” he said. “We don’t envisage that there will be a shortage of basic supplies to the man in the street.”