Workers battle high living costs

Rising food and petrol prices are just some of the factors driving workers of a local company to down tools.

Some branches of local stationery and office furniture supplier, Bidvest Waltons, have been forced to shut their doors as the workers went on a wage strike from Monday 6 August.

About 80 workers affiliated to the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) have been picketing outside the company’s head office in Woodstock.

They are demanding a 9% increase and have rejected the employer’s 6.09% offer.

“The increase is too little, according to the inflation rate – our petrol, our transport, everything is going up, we are paying rent, we cannot survive on a minimum salary of R7500, that is what we are getting in the call centre, and we have families and children we are raising. We are processing orders up to millions, and they say the company doesn’t have money,” says an employee who asked not to be named, fearing victimisation­.

The company has branches in areas including Constantia, Tyger Valley, Claremont, Waterfront and Stellenbosch. Workers in other parts of the country such as East London and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape apparently also went on strike.

A Ceppwawu shop steward explains that last year’s increase of 7.5% made a difference in the lives of the workers, among them drivers, clerks, dispatchers and pullers.

The workers have been speaking to People’s Post on condition of anonymity, fearing for their jobs.

Says one Waterfront branch employee: “Everything increases but our money remains the same or goes up by a few percentages. We can’t live on it, our kids have to go to school, we have to travel to work, we need to buy our own uniform because we haven’t received uniforms in years, we need to buy work shoes, we need to look presentable, but with what money?”

Another worker adds: “We are striking for a better living. At the end of the day we don’t want our children to work like we work, like we struggle – we want to educate them.”

“We come from areas where we struggle. I can’t buy a house, we must rent because we don’t qualify for a bond,” says another striking employee.

The lowest paid Bidvest Waltons employee is said to be earning just over R5000. The workers say an additional R700 a month would make a difference in their lives.

Ceppwawu organiser, Andrew Nortje, says the workers are willing to meet the company halfway, at 8%.

He, however, threatened intensified action if there was no agreement by Friday last week. “We will intensify the strike on Monday by picketing outside the other branches,” said Nortje.

Meanwhile, Cosatu provincial secretary, Malverne de Bruyn, addressed the workers last week and pledged the federation’s support­.

The company’s human resources manager, Samantha Britnell, would not comment, saying the company and the union had agreed not to speak to the media until the end of the strike. The union denied this.