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:
- Recognition of FAWU
- Arrangement of substantive bargaining, and
- Guaranteed return of all workers after the strike.
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:
- FAWU is the only union with locus standi at the CCMA and is pushing to get the matter to be heard on its merits, as too much of point-in-time/preliminary issues have been mischiviously raised by lawyers of the company. No other union can claim such a legitimacy to represent those workers.
- FAWU has consulted, and continuous to consult, senior councils on how best to fast-track the matter given that it has dragged for long now.
- FAWU has briefed the leadership of SAFTU on this matter and together we are working on a program of rolling mass action, including protest marches and picketing to uMbhaba, governments departments and shopping malls in the next two weeks and beyond but details will be announced in a week or two.
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.