Fishing conglomerate Oceana has highlighted its empowerment efforts by announcing a R289m payout to employee beneficiaries of the company’s Empowerment Trust.
In a press statement, Oceana stressed the payout came about as the value created through harvesting fishing rights is unlocked and converted into shared broad-based value. Oceana has, in recent years, come under scrutiny for its empowerment credentials. Consumer brands conglomerate Tiger Brands is Oceana’s main shareholder, but the company – aside from its tangible effort sat empowering staff – also boasts BEE giant Brimstone as a significant minority shareholder. The allocation of future fishing rights is SA could well hinge on the level of black ownership at fishing companies. Of the major fishing firms with headquarters in the Western Cape, only Premier Fishing (with Sekunjalo as the controlling shareholder) and Sea Harvest (with Brimstone as the majority shareholder) can be regarded as genuine black-owned ventures.
But Oceana has pushed BEE initiatives hard with the Oceana Empowerment Trust, which was set up in 2006. The Trust was setup for the purpose of acquiring a significant equity interest in Oceana and to hold the shares for the economic empowerment of eligible black employees. Currently the Trust has 2,650 beneficiaries, who are located across the country at various operating locations. With its 11.7% shareholding in Oceana, the value of the Trust has increased significantly since its establishment. In March 2014 the market value of the shares owned by the Trust was a whopping R1.2bn.
Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel said it was a source of great pride that the money was being handed over to black employees who were now “authentic stakeholders and not simply passive shareholders in South Africa’s formal economy. “This indeed resembles the unlocking of value created through harvesting fishing rights into shared value.”
Encouragingly for Oceana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson made some positive utterances about the BEE initiative at the company’s press conference last month. She noted, “When government started talking about transformation in the fishing industry, some among us reacted with steely coldness. It was an unpopular move to mix ‘corporate business’ with ‘transformation’ in one sentence, almost like forcing companies and society in general to do something that went against the grain.”
Joemat-Pettersonsaid Oceana had shown just how possible it was to truly transform. “…and by true transformation, I mean the full participation of workers and ordinary fisher folk in the fishing industry and, especially the sharing of wealth and profits with workers.” More importantly Oceana workers, who will receive an average payout of R100,000 after tax, approved a resolution to approve an extension of the lock-in period for the employee share trust.
Kuttel said this positive result demonstrated a clear vote of confidence by beneficiaries in the company and its ability to continue to create value in the future. At the end of the lock-in period in 2021, beneficiaries who hold participatory rights in the Trust will be able to convert these rights into Oceana shares. Kuttel said thatOceana had proved it was a worthy and reliable recipient of fishing rights.
“We are witnessing someofthebenefitsthat flow to those employees as a consequence of their participation in the Trust.” Oceana has been rated by an independent economic empowerment agency as a black-owned and controlled company with commendable empowerment credentials.” He stressed Oceana had seen positive growth since the Trust was established, which could be attributed to the dedication and commitment displayed by all employees. Oceana’s share price grown more than fivefoldfromR15.21in2006 to R87.87 at the end of March this year.
By Jenni McCann