WORKERS ON STRIKE AT SIMBA CHIPS, APRIL 2018 (background brief)
600 workers at the Simba Chips plant in Isando outside Johannesburg is going on strike on Thursday 19 April. The workers are resisting unilateral changes to their conditions of employment made by the management of Simba in cooperation with the labour broking company Adcorp Blu.
This strike is the latest incident in on-going conflict between the workers and employers going back to at least 2016, when labour-brokered workers at Simba demanded to be deemed permanent employees of Simba, as is their right in terms of section 198 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). The purpose of this brief is to explain the issues at stake in the strike within the context of the on-going struggles of labour-brokered workers at Simba.
What is the strike about?
Workers are protesting against the way Simba and Adcorp Blu have changed their terms of employment without consultation. The workers are demanding that their conditions of employment must be restored including their transport allowances, salaries and functions. Both sides are fully aware that this battle is about the bigger struggle around permanent jobs and equal treatment for the labour-brokered workers.
Who are the workers at Simba Chips?
The 600 striking workers were employed through the labour broker Adcorp Blue to perform tasks such as packing and sorting. They are the majority of workers in the plant, totally outnumbering the 25 permanent workers, and not a chip will leave without these workers.
Most of the workers, about 80%, are young women who live in the nearby township of Tembisa.
What is section 198?
Amendments to section 198 of the LRA came into effect in 2015. Labour-brokered workers got the right to be deemed the permanent employees of the client company of the labour broker after three months of employment. Workers who are deemed permanent in this way are also entitled to be treated equally to other permanent workers doing similar work.
410 workers at Simba employed by the labour broker Adcorp Blu demanded their right to be deemed permanent employees of Simba in 2016. When the company refused, the workers lodged a dispute at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) with the support of the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO).
How did the bosses respond?
Simba management is showing great determination to deny the labour-brokered workers the chance to access their new rights. They hired Cowan-Harper, one of the most expensive law firms in the country, to delay the process and frustrate the workers by raising every possible technical point of law they could. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) went along with this either by design or simply because commissioners are overwhelmed by the complexity of this new area of law that results from the deliberate efforts of the employers.
The bosses used the time they gained in this way to undermine and divide the workers in different ways. Key worker leaders were victimised, workers were transferred and Simba brought in a new labour broker, FunxionO, which they argue is a service provider and not a labour broker, hoping that this argument will help them to deny the workers the rights they are demanding in terms of the LRA.
Simba’s strategy is threefold: 1. Delay the legal process as much as possible. 2. Intimidate and victimise the workers in order to demobilise them. 3. Change the way production is managed in order to undermine the legal claims of the workers. They were successful in number 1, unsuccessful in number 2, and it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in number 3. Their changing of the terms on which workers are employed has now pushed workers into launching a protected strike.
Who is Simba?
Simba Chips is a South African company that produces potato chips and other snacks. It is part of PepsiCo, one of the largest corporations in the world. It has become standard practice for these corporations to report their financial figures in a way that makes it impossible to know the exact contribution of individual companies. In 2017 their Europe-Sub Saharan Africa region (which includes Simba Chips in South Africa) reported a gross income of more than 11 billion US dollars. Profit for the year was more than 1.35 billion dollars and shareholders were paid 6.5 billion dollars.
It has become the trend for giant corporations like this to lead the resistance of the bosses’ class against the new rights of labour-brokered workers. Corporations like Heineken, Unilever and PepsiCo are able to deploy armies of lawyers, security guards, managers and propagandists. They have millions of dollars to buy favours from politicians. Their hostility to the new rights for labour-brokered workers and the resources they bring to the battle have created a crisis. It is now three years since labour-brokered workers gained the new rights and only about ten thousand out of an estimated two million plus have been able to claim these rights.
How are workers organised at Simba?
Labour-brokered workers at Simba belong to the Simba Workers Forum, which is a workplace affiliate of the Simunye Workers Forum, a general association of mainly labour-brokered workers based in Germiston. Both of these groups work closely with CWAO, an NGO based in Germiston focusing on supporting the struggles of labour-brokered and other precarious workers.
The workers see these organisations as alternatives to the traditional trade unions, which have taken attitudes of indifference or hostility to the struggles of labour-brokered workers. Some workers belong to registered trade unions such a FAWU and SACCAWU, but these unions do not have functioning structures at the plant.
Sexual harassment and sexism at Simba
The strike and the longer struggle for permanent jobs have inspired the Simba workers to address a range of issues. One of the most important of these is the sexual harassment of women labour-brokered workers. Male managers have used the vulnerability of women working for labour brokers to sexually harass the women with impunity for a long time. Women workers have made this one of the key issues of the struggle at Simba.
There are also other ways women are discriminated against. Women are forced to work in the cold storage areas when they are pregnant and they are put on night shift all the time, which puts their safety at risk in the plant and during their travels between work and home.
For more information contact:
Colette Gadisi 0608183663 – Simba Workers Forum
Jacob Potlaki 0828106134 - CWAO
Ighsaan Schroeder 0798882229 - CWAO