Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A new dispute has arisen at Robertson Winery with workers accusing the company of not respecting the agreement signed in November after a long strike late last year. The winery, however, says it is complying fully with the agreement.

In a deal reached after a 14-week strike‚ which started on August 24 2016, the workers’ union‚ the Commercial‚ Stevedoring and Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU)‚ and the winery settled on a wage increase of R400 or 8%‚ whichever was the greater‚ backdated to August 8 2016. They also agreed on bonuses‚ to be calculated using a 12-month payment cycle.

According to CSAAWU deputy general secretary Karel Swart‚ the workers expected the backdated increase to cover the period of the strike‚ but it did not. In addition‚ the workers did not receive full annual bonuses. The agreement states that the bonuses would be "calculated based on the average basic wage income earning for the period July 6 2015 to July 10 2016‚ payable on November 25 2016". But bonuses were reduced to take into account the months when they did not work because of the strike. One worker told GroundUp his bonus was about R1‚000 short of his full salary.

Swart said that throughout his 35 years of working with unions‚ he had never seen something like this. He said Robertson Winery had "misinterpreted" the agreement by taking it to mean that the period of the strike would be deducted from workers’ bonuses and backdated wage increases. Swart said this was deliberate because the winery had lawyers and labour consultants "with the necessary skills" to understand what "backdated pay means". "The company wants to penalise workers for going on strike‚" he said. But a former trade unionist said this was common practice‚ unless an agreement was explicitly reached in which workers were paid for time they were on strike — something that seldom happened‚ he said.

Swart said workers started a new strike in protest against what they saw as a contravention of the agreement. Some have been disciplined as a result. CSAAWU recommended that workers return to work while the union takes up the matter through lawyers.

A spokesperson for Robertson Winery said the company was "in full compliance" with the agreement. She said no disciplinary action had been taken against any employee during the long strike‚ but since employees had returned to work on November 28 2016 there had been "consistent application of our Disciplinary Code in all matters related to discipline".

Last year’s strike lasted for nearly four months — a marathon strike for a union that faced bankruptcy in mid-2015.

The workers were demanding a wage of R8‚500‚ but settled for the increase of R400 or 8%‚ which, according to Robertson Winery, would put the average worker’s salary at R4‚264 per month.

This story appeared in GroundUp

TMG Digital/GroundUp

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