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Bell Equipment. Picture: SUPPLIED
Bell Equipment. Picture: SUPPLIED

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is threatening to strike at Bell Equipment’s Richards Bay plant and at its Boksburg-based head office to demand insourcing of workers, a housing and transport allowance and R2,000 in untaxed bonuses for member employees.

JSE-listed Bell employs more than 3,500 people and owns a principal manufacturing plant in Richards Bay, where the union plans to picket, alongside 20 branches located nationwide.

With a capacity of 5,000 machines a year, the plant supplies Africa and Asia with trucks, hauliers, loaders, tractors, backhoes and custom-made equipment.

Irvin Jim, general secretary of Numsa, SA’s largest union with a membership of more than 300,000, bemoaned the exclusion of workers from sharing in the company’s profits. Management and white-collar workers had received bonus payouts while “not a cent was given to so-called ‘blue-collar’ workers”, he said.

The top three executive directors, including Goosen, financial director Karen van Haght and chief strategy officer Avishkar Goordeen received total remuneration R15.1m for 2022.

Goosen received a total of R5.1m in remuneration in 2021 and R6.7 in 2022, according to company data. 

“The CEO of the company, Leon Goosen is greedy and is discriminating against workers,” Jim said. “Goosen should be ashamed of himself.”  

The union and Bell have deadlocked and are engaged with conciliation through the CCMA, Jim added.

“The last day for the conciliation is Tuesday July 4, when we will meet for the last time with the employer,” Jim said in a statement.

“If they refuse to put a better offer at that meeting, then we will request picketing rules, as well as the strike certificate from the commissioner so that we can mobilise for a total shutdown of Bell equipment. We urge the management to come to the negotiating table with an offer to prevent a strike.”

Bell said it “categorically denies any allegations” made by the NUMSA general secretary, “which are of a personal nature”.

Responding to Business Day questions the company said it is adhering to the formal dispute process, which is with the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC).

“This is the appropriate forum for resolving any disputes, and we will not argue the merits of the case via the press,” Goosen said. “We remain committed to upholding our values of fairness and transparency and are confident that the formal process will bring about a just resolution.”

Numsa is demanding a housing allowance of R2,000 for members and a transport allowance of R1,000. The union says it also wants all workers to benefit from the company’s profit share scheme and proposed the company offer a R2,000 untaxed payment to each worker as a bonus.

Additionally, the union wants labour brokers scrapped and workers to be sourced by Bell, noting that some have been temporary employees for 10 years or more.

“It is a fact that the office workers and management are unable to deliver a single ounce of production. They sit in their air-conditioned offices and look at spreadsheets,” the union said.

“Numsa is the majority union at Bell and if there is a strike, we will be able to shut down Bell,” union spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told Business Day.

Bell announced a 63% rise in profit to R639m in the year to end-December adding that its order book was being maintained at record levels while “the group is taking orders for 2024”.

The board declared a final dividend of 90c per share up from 50c previously.

The 69-year-old group is stepping up production of its flagship trucks at its factory in Germany to increase efficiency and free up space in its  SA plant for new product ranges.

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