- On Tuesday, striking Clover workers marched through downtown Johannesburg, removing the company’s products from store shelves and leaving them in shopping carts.
- They are calling for a boycott of Clover products to protest restructuring and job losses.
- Clover management said the decision to restructure was made in light of difficult business conditions.
Around 70 Clover strikers marched through downtown Johannesburg on Tuesday, calling on the public to boycott Clover products.
The workers, many of whom are members of the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) or the General Industrial Workers’ Union of South Africa (Giwusa), marched from the offices of the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in downtown Marshalltown. They went to grocery stores and pulled Clover products from shelves, leaving them in shopping carts.
“We want people to stop buying Clover products until the company responds to our demands,” said Martin Ledwaba, Giwusa shop steward.
The Clover workers’ strike has entered its ninth week and workers say they will not stop until their demands are met. They demand that the company end its plans for additional layoffs and reinstate all workers. They also want the company to be independent of the Israeli company Central Bottling Company (CBC) which owns Clover through the Milco SA consortium.
Last week, workers managed to secure an agreement with Clover at the CCMA that overdue premiums would be paid by Friday, January 14. But many workers said they had not received the full amount.
“We are confused as this is a 13th check and we were supposed to get the same amount as our salary but it didn’t. As someone earning R12,000 I expect to receive R12,000, not the R400 they deposited,” said Judge Mokoting, who works at the Clover factory in City Deep.
When the workers arrived outside Shoprite in Marshalltown, security guards tried to block them from entering, but the guards were outnumbered.
“We’re not here to loot, we just want to get Clover products off the shelves,” a worker told a security guard.
Inside the store, workers took carts and filled them with Clover products, leaving “Boycott Clover Products” leaflets in some of the carts. Workers also handed out leaflets to shoppers and onlookers on the streets as they marched through the city.
Among the reasons for the strike listed in the pamphlet are the workers’ opposition to the “big restructuring” led by Clover which involves the change from nine-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, making work compulsory on Sundays and holidays public holidays and the introduction of a 20% pay cut.
Some traders have closed for fear that their stock will be stolen and the stores vandalized. Tensions briefly erupted when workers attempted to break into the Boxer Superstore at Park Central Shopping Center near Noord Taxi Rank.
An elderly customer, who asked not to be named, said she was scared when she heard workers approaching.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I almost dropped the items I had in my hand,” she said. She was able to pay for her items and leave the store.
The workers returned to the CCMA offices, where their unfair dismissal case was heard at 2 p.m. Speaking to workers outside the offices, Giwusa national organizer Charles Phahla promised comments on Wednesday on the progress of the case.
He said the unions would also approach the CCMA at a later stage to resolve the issues workers had raised with the payment of bonuses.
Clover management had not responded to questions from GroundUp at the time of publication. Last week, the company said business conditions were tough, with lackluster economic growth, rising costs and subdued consumer spending. Covid had added to these pressures.
“For these reasons, a comprehensive strategic review of all aspects of Clover’s business was undertaken, which led to the difficult decision to restructure.” Clover said it has explored “every possible avenue” to minimize retrenchments.
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Zwelinzima Vavi, has called on affiliated unions to support Giwusa and Fawu as they step up the strike.
At a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday, he said Saftu would hold a meeting of the working class movement on Wednesday to “discuss solidarity plans and develop a new agenda.” DM
First published by GroundUp.