MTO Forestry condemns the violent industrial action that has been taken against the company by the National Certified Fishing and Allied Workers Union (NCFAWU). The company acquired an interdict against NCFAWU to refrain from violence.

The strike followed a mutual interest dispute that was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) regarding wages and other mutual interest matters.

“We believe the action has been unnecessary and that with meaningful discussion the parties can reach settlement. The safety of our employees and having reasonable discussions with NCFAWU are our top priorities. We shall not tolerate our employees being intimated or victimized,” says Gretchen Blake, Chief People Officer at the MTO Group, which operates within the forestry and sawmilling sectors in the Southern and Eastern Cape regions.

Blake says some of the employees at the George Sawmill joined NCFAWU this year.  The company’s other trade union representation includes The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), with whom the company has built a longstanding relationship and to whom the majority of the employees belong.

“MTO engaged NCFAWU to conclude a relationship agreement. This agreement has not been finalised to date. Despite this, we agreed to engage with NCFAWU on wages and other matters of mutual interests. This was in an attempt not to compromise our employees who had an expectation of an annual July salary review.

“All other employees were given adjustments in July, which have been agreed upon by CEPPWAWU and NUMSA. A number of NCFAWU members also signed acceptance of the wage agreement,” Blake says.

NCFAWU declared a dispute just after the second round of wage discussions, demanding an increase which equates to a raise of 27% on the basic wage.

The union also included a demand for an agency shop agreement which will force all employees to pay a union membership fee to NCFAWU, irrespective of their trade union affiliation.

In return, MTO has offered a competitive increase on the basic wage and offered to move the implementation of the new national minimum wage requirement to be effective from 1 January 2018. The new wage requirement is only enforceable in May 2018.

Blake says MTO’s wage increase offer is far more generous than the industry norm. The Company also made it clear that it will not enforce an agency shop agreement as it supports the freedom of affiliations for employees.

“Regardless of MTO’s willingness to engage and reach an agreement to our mutual benefit, the NCFAWU called for a CCMA certificate to strike, which was issued at 16h05 on Friday, 13 October.”

The NCFAWU immediately served the 48 hour notice to embark on a strike. In response MTO issued a defensive lockout notice and invited NCFAWU to a meeting on Monday, 16 October to discuss picketing rules. The strike however started before any rules were discussed.

“We are really disappointed in the unwillingness of NCFAWU to engage in discussions.  This is not in the best interest of the majority of our employees, the company and the wider community. We believe the mechanisms invoked by the union were premature and that meaningful engagement has not been exhausted. The company has offered various alternatives to resolve this.”

MTO has warned the striking workers that violence will not be tolerated. The company obtained an interdict against NCFAWU to abstain from violence. “The safety of our employees comes first,” Blake says.