The jobs of 98 workers have been saved after the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU) succeeded in its bid to stop the closure of the Oceana fishmeal factory in Hout Bay.
This followed the signing of an agreement at the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) between FAWU and Oceana to extend the operating lease of the factory from one to five years.
FAWU national fishing sector organiser, Zolani Mbanjwa, described the decision as “a victory for the workers.”
In August, Oceana had announced the possible closure of the factory, saying it could not sustain its operation, amid complaints from some residents that the factory was a smelly blight in the community. Had they gone ahead with closure, Oceana’s 98 employees in Hout Bay would have either lost their jobs, or been expected to move to the company’s St Helena Bay facility.
Negotiations between FAWU and Oceana started at the the CCMA soon after the announcement in August. Talks centred on section 189A of the Labour Relations Act of 1995, which stipulates that when an employer contemplates dismissing one or more employees for reasons based on the employer’s operational requirements, the employer must begin a process of consultation.
“The department of Public Works has extended a one-year lease permit the company has been operating on for years. As from 2016 it will be extended to five years,” Mbanjwa said.
“The company will now operate full time. Working days and hours will also be increased, which means more work for the workers. This is a victory for them. They won’t be moving to St Helena Bay or elsewhere within the company. Every worker’s job is secured,” he said.
Oceana Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Francois Kuttel said, “The factory will remain in operation with a full staff complement.”
He said the company had reduced plant production to less than 40% of normal annual production levels over the past three years in bid to reduce the smells emanating from the factory on certain production days.
“Oceana did not reduce the factory’s workforce during this de-escalation of activity and paid their staff for the entire year, although they worked for only 60 days per year for the three years,” he said.
“In order to become financially viable and protect the job security of its staff in Hout Bay, Oceana will now revert to pre-2012 production levels of between 120-180 days per year, in accordance with Oceana’s staffing capacity and original permit allowance.
“Staff at the factory will now be able to work according to the correct capacity.”
The Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF) and the SA Communist Party (SACP) welcomed the decision by Oceana not to close down the factory.
“This is a victory for the 98 workers who faced unemployment and for those families and community members dependent on them,” said SACP Provincial Spokesperson Masonwabe Sokoyi.
KDF chairperson Ndithini Thyilo also hailed it as a workers’ victory. “This is a victory that acted as a buffer between poverty and starvation,” he said.