Striking Durban food workers head to CCMA

Frimax Foods dismissed workers who downed tools earlier this month

By Tsoanelo Sefoloko

29 June 2023

Frimax Foods workers picket outside the company’s factory in Verulam, Durban on Tuesday, 27 June. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi

Workers at Frimax Foods factory in Verulam, Durban, are taking the company to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) next week.

This comes as 93 of the 219 Frimax workers who were dismissed for participating in an unprotected strike earlier this month returned to work.

The workers downed tools on 5 June and were dismissed by the chip producing company soon after. They made several allegations against their employer related to discrimination, mistreatment and withholding some of their salaries.
According to workers, they went on strike after the company refused to negotiate about internal grievances with their new union, the African Meat Industry and Allied Trade Union (AMITU).

While no formal dismissal notices have been issued to the remaining 147 workers, the company has posted a note at the factory’s entrance, stating that all workers involved in the strike are fired. The workers who returned last week say they had to plead to get their jobs back.

A worker alleged she had been assaulted by a security guard employed by a company that Frimax uses. But Frimax’s human resources manager, Deshni Govender, said the company had investigated the allegation and found no evidence for it.

Another worker, who identified herself as Sibusisiwe, complained that they were not paid overtime. “The employer will tell you that he only pays nine hours. Most of us here work 12 hours a day. Each and every year we strike but the previous union promised things will change but nothing has changed,” she said.

She said this will also be part of the CCMA case.

The case is to be heard on 7 July.

Govender confirmed the CCMA matter and said the company will await the outcome. She also told GroundUp that the company had allowed the 100 workers back last week as they claimed they were intimidated by those leading the strike.

She said they had given the dismissed worker a number of opportunities to return, but they refused to engage with the company. She said a disciplinary hearing was held though none of the workers attended.

“The relevant disciplinary procedures have been followed and the employees were found guilty for engaging in an illegal strike,” Govender said.

According to Govender, Frimax has a closed shop agreement with the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU). She said it was explained to staff that AMITU cannot represent them on internal matters.