11 January 2017

South Africa: New Dispute At Robertson Winery

Union and management at odds over post-strike deal

A new dispute has arisen at Robertson Winery with workers accusing the company of not respecting the agreement signed in November after a long strike. The company says it is complying fully with the agreement.

In a deal reached after a 14-week strike, the workers' union, the Commercial, Stevedoring and Allied Workers' Union (CSAAWU), and the winery settled on a wage increase of R400 or 8%, whichever is the larger, backdated to 8 August 2016. They also agreed on bonuses, to be calculated using a 12-month pay cycle.

According to CSAAWU deputy general secretary Karel Swart, the workers had expected that the backdated increase would cover the period of the strike, but it had not. The strike began on 24 August.

In addition, the workers had not received their full annual bonuses. The agreement states that the annual bonus will be "calculated based on the average basic wage income earning for the period 6 July 2015 to 10 July 2016, payable on 25 November 2016". But workers' bonuses had been reduced to take into account the months when they had not worked because of the strike.

One worker told GroundUp that his bonus had been around R1,000 short of his full salary.

Swart said that throughout his 35 years of working with unions, he had never seen something like this. He said Robertson Winery had "misinterpreted" the agreement to mean that the period of the strike would be deducted from workers' bonuses and backdated wage increases. He said this was deliberate because the winery had lawyers and labour consultants "with the necessary skills" to understand what "backdated pay means".

"The company wants to penalise workers for going on strike," he said.

But a former trade unionist said this was common practice, unless an agreement was explicitly reached where workers were paid for time they were on strike - something that seldom happened, he said.

Swart said workers had started a new strike in protest against what they saw as a contravention of the agreement. Some had been disciplined as a result. CSAAWU had recommended that workers return to work while the union took up the matter through lawyers.

A spokesperson for Robertson Winery said the company was "in full compliance" with the agreement. She said no disciplinary action had been taken against any employee during the long strike, but since employees had returned to work on 28 November there had been "consistent application of our Disciplinary Code in all matters related to discipline".

Last year's strike lasted for nearly four months - a marathon strike for a union that faced bankruptcy in mid-2015.

The workers were demanding a wage of R8,500, but settled for the increase of R400 or 8%, which according to Robertson Winery would put the average worker's salary at R4,264 per month.

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