Legal View

Mustek locks down Midrand HQ as workers strike

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Mustek employees picketing at the company’s Midrand premises on Thursday.
Mustek employees picketing at the company’s Midrand premises on Thursday.

ICT distributor Mustek this morning placed its head office on full lockdown due to strike action.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are continuing with the strike over a wage dispute for the third day, which has forced Mustek management to lockup its Midrand premises.

“Management this morning has taken a decision to enforce total lockdown of the Midrand branch premises for the day. All customers and staff are advised that they should under no circumstances come to the Midrand branch premises today,” Mustek announced in a short statement on Friday.

Deliveries and collections at Mustek were halted yesterday after the strike, which had begun peacefully, escalated when vehicles leaving or entering the premises were targeted.

Yesterday, Mustek noted in a statement that “deliveries and visitors have been prevented from entering Mustek Midrand premises, and vehicles attempting to enter are being pelted by protesting strikers”.

It added: “This is in contravention of the picketing guidelines determined by the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] and has caused disruption to Mustek’s business. Due to the current situation, a decision has, therefore, been taken to place a request that there be no physical visits to the Mustek Midrand premises until further notice.”

In a statement to ITWeb, CWU secretary general Aubrey Tshabalala says: “We are today entering a third day national strike at Mustek. It’s a total shutdown for refusal to bargain with the union. At 10am, they're going to court to try and interdict the strike. We will be handing in a memorandum to Mustek CEO David Kan.”

'Unreasonable' demands

In response, Mustek says both parties are engaged in wage negotiations and were unable to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.

Nicole Orr, national marketing executive at Mustek, explains: “The CWU had presented Mustek with a list of demands that the company was unable to concede to, as they were not sustainable and pose a risk to the business in the current economic climate.

“Despite the tough economic conditions, Mustek ensured that all employees received full pay during the lockdown period and mitigated retrenchments. Additionally, the company paid CPI-related increases. Unfortunately, we cannot concede to further demands at this time.”

Orr says as a result of the impasse, a dispute was then referred to the CCMA, where it was conciliated by a senior commissioner without reaching agreement.

“The CWU has subsequently exercised its legal right to engage in industrial action, at which time Mustek gave the union notice that striking members would be locked out. Mustek respects the right of members of the CWU to engage in strike action as part of our functioning democracy and took all necessary safety precautions to safeguard Mustek’s employees and customers, as well as the protesters.”

Further, she notes the sticking points in the discussions with the employees that led to the industrial action include demands of 20% salary increase and a R2 000 per month / per employee housing subsidy, which the company felt was “unreasonable”.

Commenting on the way forward, she says: “Mustek wrote to the CCMA and they recommended that the company refer the matter. As it stands, Mustek are in the process of applying for an interdict at the Labour Court. Should the picketing rules be made an order of the court, Mustek will be able to continue with its operations and guarantee the safety of non-striking staff and visitors to the premises.”

She adds: “The strikers have ignored safety rules issued to them, despite a follow-up in writing from Mustek, that the picketers follow the picketing rules that had been previously set out. Regrettably, staff, customers and deliveries have been prevented from entering or leaving Mustek premises, and vehicles attempting to enter have been pelted by protesting strikers.”

According to Orr, staff trying to come to work “have been harassed and intimidated, and the strikers have blatantly had no respect for the rule of law. Mustek has asked the police not to engage in a bid to ensure the safety of employees and strikers.”

The industrial action at Mustek comes a week after the company presented its year-end financial results.

For the year ended June, Mustek’s revenue was R6.4 billion, up 9.4% from R5.85 billion the previous financial year.

Mustek also supplies fibre cabling products to network operators such as Vumatel and Vodacom.

The company reported that its performance for the period under review had been mostly positive, save for the COVID-19-induced lockdown when its operations were disrupted.

Mustek declared headline earnings per share (HEPS) of 127.13c compared to 2019’s HEPS of 139.32c.

The JSE-listed group declared a dividend of 26c per share, which will be paid out of income reserves. This is down 13.3% from the 30c declared last year.

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