Bread became a scarce item in Cape Town this week as 1 000 bakery workers went out on strike in support of wage demands – and management went in to man the ovens.
A placard at one of the four bakeries involved spelt out the workers' message: "Tools down, time is gone — we want a living wage."
The four bakeries, owned by food sector giants Tiger Oats and Sasko and the Cape company, Bokomo, have rejected workers' demands for a R32 across the board weekly increase.
The bakeries are sticking at their offer of R19,50 which is substantially lower than the increase recently negotiated between the Food and Allied Workers' Union, to which the striking workers belong, and Premier Milling which owns two other Cape Town bakeries.
Fawu accepted Premier's offer of an immediate R27,50 increase and a further R1,50 in January – bringing the minimum starting wage to R139,50, ahead of the present minimum of R110 at the four bakeries.
The strike follows four months of wage negotiations which saw all the procedures laid down in negotiated recognition agreements exhausted. Between them, the six bakeries produce most of Cape Town's bread – the government loaf sold at a nationally determined price.
Fawu general secretary Jan Theron said the bakeries affected by the strike were "pleading poverty", a claim the union rejected. He said it was clear the companies had in the past agreed on wage levels, despite the fact that all bargaining took place at plant level. However, Premier had now broken ranks.
Sasko group manpower manager George Koning denied there was any collusion. He said discussions were underway in an attempt to persuade workers at Sasko's Enterprise Bakery to leave the premises, following an urgent interdict granted by the Cape Town Supreme Court on Tuesday. Koning said production at Enterprise was continuing.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail