The South African Federation of Trade Unions and its affiliate, the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), have met workers who were dismissed at the Umbhaba Banana Estates farm near Malelane in Mpumalanga two years ago and have resolved to take up their fight for reinstatement.
Back in 2015 a sizable number, estimated at between 900 and 1 300, of the plus-minus 3 000 workers in this huge farming operation, had expressed a desire to join FAWU as the union of their choice.
After several requests for engagement and ultimately an engagement session, the employer flatly refused to recognize FAWU despite hundreds of forms having been submitted by an estimated at 800 workers, confirming their membership of FAWU.
The employer intransigently refused to meaningfully engage with FAWU, which left workers with no option but to follow procedures in pursuit of legally-protected strike action and subsequently went on strike.
During the strike, at the end of 2015, the FAWU General Secretary went to meet the employer and their consultants with a view to engineering a settlement agreement but this meeting, and the one after, could not result in a settlement as agreement could not be reached on:
In the course process of the strike the employer charged about 380 of these workers on allegations of intimidation, arson, violence, and similar such charges but then FAWU referred the matter to the CCMA, a case that is still unfolding to date.
SAFTU is arranging a meeting with lawyers to look at how we can speed up the cases of unfair dismissal at the CCMA and to ensure that all the workers are protected in their fight for justice. In addition it should be noted that:
In addition the federation will mobilize for solidarity action within our affiliated unions, the local and broader community and political parties. This will include a call for a boycott of Umbhaba farm products and will appeal to retailers not to to buy from that farm until all the workers have been reinstated.
We are also appealing to Gift of the Givers to provide the workers with food parcels whilst the battle is going on.
SAFTU will also organize a march to Umbhaba farms in support of the demand for reinstatement.