Big Bend: Up to 1500 employees at Ubombo Sugar Limited in Big Bend are engaged in a protracted protest action at the company’s main entrance.
The workers are demanding a salary increase of 11.6 percent in accordance with the cost-of-living adjustment (CoLA), however, the company is only prepared to offer the workers a 4.6 percent increase. The strike action that involves intensive picketing started on September 01, 2021. This was after their representatives, the Swaziland Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (SAPWU) issued a Notice of Strike dated August 30, 2021, to the Commissioner of Labour, Mthunzi Shabangu.
The Notice of Strike was copied to the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC), Ubombo Sugar Limited, and the SAPWU national executive. It reads in part “having been issued with a certificate of unresolved dispute No. 292/21 by CMAC, Ref. STK, 034/21 and a majority of employees voting in the ballot in favor of strike action, SAPWU thereby notifies the Commissioner of Labour of the intention to engage in strike action in terms of section 86 (8) of the Industrial Relations Act 2000 as amended.”
The Notice of Strike refers to a voting process that was conducted by the CMAC where 1817 workers took part and voted for the strike. SAPWU has a membership of 2 080 in the company.
According to the Acting Human Resources Manager, Happiness Dludlu “since the commencement of the strike action, the workers have been picketing around the gate leading to the main office and in the process obstructing the free flow of traffic in and out of the main gate. This has been detrimental to the company’s business.”
On Tuesday, Ubombo Sugar Limited filed an urgent application at the Industrial Court seeking an order to stop the disgruntled workers from demonstrating close to the gate leading to the main office. Arguing on behalf of the company Dludlu told the Court that “customers and other visitors are unable to access the main office due to the protesting employees. They are also threatening and intimidating all those who wish to gain access to the village through the main gate.
“The main gate also serves as an access route to the local village that comprises of 347 houses used by both the employees of the company and ordinary citizens. The obstruction of the traffic flow also affects learners from two schools, Sisekelo High School and Ubombo Preparatory School. This has affected non-striking staff, residents and those who are going to or from the schools, particularly parents who have to bring and collect their children from the schools.”
Dludlu suggested that the best solution to the problem would be to confine the picketing workers to the company’s playing field which is located at a reasonable distance from the main gate. This view was vociferously opposed by the union representatives who declared that the main reason that they were on strike action was that they wanted to draw the attention of management to their grievances. They contended that confining the workers to the playing field would defeat the purpose of the strike action.
Acting Judge Khontaphi Manzini then ruled that the picketing was proportionate and did not break any rules. Manzini mentioned that the strike was lawful and not violent. Therefore the workers can continue picketing around the company’s gate to the main office.
Ubombo Sugar Limited’s outgoing Managing Director; Oswald Magwenzi says “it is impossible to offer that double-digit percentage that the union is asking for due to the current state of the economy in the country. We were supposed to have finalized the talks between February and March but due to Covid 19 regulations, they were stalled. The unions should be cognizant of the practicalities of such because companies have been hit hard by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.”
The Acting Managing Director at Ubombo Sugar Limited, Leonard Ndzimandze has confirmed that the negotiation process is still continuing. The company is represented by attorney Zweli Jele from the law firm, Robinson Bertram while Alex Fakudze is the union representative.