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South African court blocks Mondi from exploiting workers

23 April, 2020Unions have successfully challenged paper and packaging multinational Mondi Group’s court application to avoid paying overtime during the Covid-19 lockdown.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) and the United Association of South Africa (UASA) argued that employers cannot change conditions in collective bargaining agreements without negotiating with unions.

The Mondi Group wanted permission to extend shifts from eight to 12 hours during the lockdown period without complying with existing collective agreements and wage rates. The company did not want to pay overtime and requested the Labour Court in Durban to allow it to suspend conditions in the collective agreements signed with the unions.

However, on 16 April the court ruled in favour of the unions and dismissed the application.

Welile Nolingo, CEPPWAWU general secretary says:

“We applaud the Labour Court for dismissing the application and for protecting workers rights to fair wages. Employers should never be allowed to tamper with collective agreements that we fought so hard for them to be signed.”

Tom Grinter, IndustriALL director for pulp and paper, says:

“We welcome the unions’ court victory against the Mondi Group. It is unacceptable that an employer tries to use the Covid-19 pandemic to exploit workers. Collective agreements should always be respected to protect workers’ incomes, especially for those reporting for duty at the risk of infection from the deadly coronavirus.”

The pulp, paper, packaging, recycling and tissue value chains are some of the industries designated as “essential services” according to the lockdown regulations in South Africa. The sector produces paper for printing, stationery such as note pads, for packaging and toilet tissue paper. Other products include hospital gowns, masks and personal protective equipment for medical use. Currently, the hygiene and medical products are crucial in the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

South Africa is one of the world’s top producers of pulp and paper for domestic consumption, as well as for exports. According to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the pulp and paper sector employs about 24,000 workers who are part of a value chain of over 150,000 workers. These include informal workers who supply recycled fibre to the paper mills.