736 fired in Dimbaza for unlawful strike
After an ‘absolute final written warning’, they downed tools
In Dimbaza, 736 textile factory workers were fired on Wednesday.
The shock move was made in response to an unprotected strike. Mathomo Manufacturing owner Kevin Schroeder confirmed to the Dispatch that he fired 736 of his 742 work force at 5pm on Wednesday after the workers refused to go back to work.
Schroeder said: “It is indeed sad that on January 23, Mathomo Manufacturing cc was left with no alternative but to dismiss 736 employees, being a significant percentage of the company’s workforce.”
The factory, locally known as “Kwa Guru”, is the largest employer in the poverty-stricken town.
Schroeder said the workers had already been given two final written warnings for illegal labour action last year.
He said that on Tuesday, less than two months after an “absolute final written warning, they downed tools without following any procedures as contemplated in the Labour Relations Act”.
Workers’ spokesperson Zoleka Dyasi, speaking to a large crowd demonstrating outside the factory on Thursday, said the workforce was fired for taking a stand against the firm after it put 143 workers on short time on Monday without pay or specifying their return date.
In an interview at the firm’s head offices in West Drive, Berea, East London, Schroeder denied Dyasi's allegations saying the firm only gave the workers a notice of pending short time. Schroeder said he was forced to give out the notices to the 143 employees because initial illegal strikes cost the business production time which led to a loss of earnings.
“The order book shrank due to no production at the time of the strike. It didn't help to have many people while there was less demand for production.”
When the Dispatch visited the factory in Edge Road on Thursday workers had set up barricades of burning tyres.
The Dispatch was shown a copy of a letter written to an employee. Signed by Mathomo HR administrator Megan West, it read: “You are hereby notified that you will go on short time starting on January 23. Your return date to work will be communicated to you as soon as there is more clarity on the work flow at Mathomo.”
Dyasi accused the company of exploiting its workers for a long time but said conditions worsened when a new manager was hired last year.
“On his second day at work he told everyone they were lazy. He changed the production target of 60 pieces per worker per hour to 120 – an impossible target. We have been producing 60 per hour for 10 years.”
Schroeder countered this by saying: “They don't produce 62, 63 or even 58 pieces. All of them always produce 60 on the dot. People supposedly have different work speeds.” Schroeder said the production targets at his firm were in fact “extremely” reasonable and were 40% less than the national target.
Dyasi claimed the new manager also introduced a toilet curfew. “He forces everyone not to exceed three minutes in the toilet or else you get a warning and dismissal. He is not taking into consideration that the toilet may have been occupied when you got there and therefore you had to wait.”
Schroeder rejected this as: “Absolute nonsense, so bizarre, just absolute garbage! How can we give someone (a set) time to use the toilet?”
Dyasi said the company fired people “haphazardly” without following proper procedures and cases were piling up at the CCMA against the firm.
She said 60 people were fired between July and December and their cases were pending at the CCMA. A further 10 were fired only days after the company reopened on January 14, she alleged.
Schroeder said he fired eight workers between October and December. “I fired five guys who came to work drunk, two for insubordination and my warehouse manager for theft.”
This was after the manager had been promoted from an “ordinary post”...