Victory for union at chicken plant

Workers celebrate as Rainbow Chicken agrees to recognise union

By Liezl Human

13 December 2023

Rainbow Chicken’s Hammarsdale plant has agreed to recognise the Agriculture, Food and Allied Democratic Workers Union (AFADWU) following a strike. Photo supplied

Workers are celebrating as Rainbow Chicken agreed to recognise their union at its processing plant in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, following several days of striking.

Members of the Agriculture, Food and Allied Democratic Workers Union (AFADWU) had been on strike since 6 December, saying that their organisational rights had been unlawfully terminated by Rainbow Chicken.

An agreement to give the union rights to organise was reached on 11 December and workers are returning to work.

The union represents nearly 500 workers at the plant working in all departments. Rainbow Chicken, part of RCL Foods, terminated the union’s right to organise at the plant earlier this year. In May, the union took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) which issued a certificate to strike.

Rainbow Chicken approached the Labour Court to interdict the strike but this application was dismissed. Union members downed tools on 6 December.

Provincial Secretary of AFADWU Joe Brown told GroundUp the union recognition had been withdrawn because it did not meet a national 30% representation threshold, despite being the majority union at the Hammarsdale facility.

In a statement from 8 December, the union said it wishes “to negotiate within the confines of the law, seeking only the rightful space to represent the interests and protect the fundamental rights of our members”.

After the agreement was reached, Brown said, “This is a great victory for AFADWU which will pave a way for other incoming unions that want to organise at Rainbow Chicken.”

In a statement on 8 December, COSATU, to which AFADWU is affiliated, called the Rainbow Chicken’s withdrawal of the union’s rights a “brazen undermining of labour rights, collective bargaining and freedom of choice, affording every employee the right to representation and to join unions of their choice”.

Rainbow Chicken said in response to questions from GroundUp that AFADWU “was demanding recognition/organisational rights despite them not meeting the required minimum threshold”. The company said it has a National Recognition Agreement with two unions, Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the National Union of Food, Beverage, Wine, Spirit and Allied Workers (NUFBWSAW).

“Following extensive discussions with AFADWU over the last few days, we reached a settlement yesterday, 11 December, and the strike action has officially been called off. All striking employees will be back at work today. Rainbow Chicken maintained production volumes during this time,” the company said.