Covid-19: Lear Corporation workers protest after being put on short-time

Company has apparently applied for TERS funding but employees have not been paid this yet

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Photo of protesting workers
Protesting workers at Lear Corporation stand about 200 metres from the company’s premises on Monday after police chased them. Photo: Joseph Chirume

About 40 employees of vehicle components manufacturer, Lear Corporation, in Port Elizabeth have been protesting outside the company’s premises in Markman Industrial since last week. They are demanding wages for the additional weeks that were added by President Cyril Ramaphosa to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The employees told GroundUp that Lear paid them salaries for the first three weeks of the lockdown as if they were on leave. After the lockdown extension, they were put onto short-time.

Short-time is being used by many companies during the lockdown as a means of keeping their employees on, instead of retrenching them. But it can mean that employees don’t get paid their full, or even part of, their salaries.

On Monday the workers gathered about 200 metres from Lear’s premises after they had been chased away by police from the company’s premises.

The protesters told GroundUp that most of them work through labour brokers. Some said they had been with Lear for more than five years but were not yet permanent employees.

A worker who asked not to be named said some workers had been paid only R13 to R100 at the end of April, apparently the value of their tax rebates.

He said that the company had applied to the Department of Labour’s Temporary Employer / Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) that is being paid from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

NUMSA organiser for Markman Industrial, Vusumzi Petshwa, said that union officials held two teleconference meetings with Lear Corporation, one before the lockdown and another last Tuesday. “We asked Lear to pay workers and then claim the money from UIF. [Management] said they could not do that because they faced challenges with cash flow. The company said they would pay workers from their leave days and claim it from the UIF.”

Petshwa said that Lear informed them that their initial application to UIF had been rejected after they paid workers more than the 38% threshold. “They however rectified that and reapplied,” said Petshwa.

(TERS pays out 38 to 60% of an employee’s salary or R17,712 whichever is lower, so if a company manages to pay more than 38% it appears not to be eligible for TERS.)

Petshwa said they failed to convince Lear Corporation to absorb workers who had worked for them on a temporary basis for many years by offering them permanent contracts.

NUMSA regional secretary Mziyanda Twani told GroundUp that production at Lear had been reduced last year, after a major car manufacturer that buys Lear’s products had cut production.

GroundUp asked the Eastern Cape Department of Employment and Labour about the status of the claims for Lear’s employees. “Your enquiry is receiving attention, however I will not make your deadline as Covid-19 TERS applications are processed in our Head Office in Pretoria and they are currently dealing with a lot of claims. We have requested them to respond,” spokesperson Ziphozihle Josefu said.

By the morning of 7 May the workers had not been paid from this fund.

Efforts to get comment from Lear Corporation were fruitless. An official, who refused to give her name, came to the main gate on Monday and said the company has a policy of not speaking to the media.

TOPICS:  Covid-19 Labour

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