Demanding a minimum pay of R12,500 (about USD 855) per month, workers in pharmaceutical distribution firm Transpharm’s Cape Town outlet on Wednesday, September 18, joined the strike action which began at the company’s Pretoria branch last Thursday.
A subsidiary of the company Shoprite, listed in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Transpharm is one of South Africa’s largest pharmaceutical distributors and wholesalers, supplying more than 30,000 pharmaceutical, surgical and veterinary products to hospitals, clinics and retail pharmacies.
The successful strike action in Pretoria has virtually shut down operations there, costing Transpharm about R11 million (USD752,345) every day. With workers in the Cape Town branch joining in today, the management has been forced to come to the negotiating table at a meeting with the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), which is leading the industrial action.
The strike action began when about 400 members of GIWUSA downed tools after the company refused to meet their demand for a wage of R12,500 per month, which, they insist, is the minimum required to meet a family’s basic needs.
The company is currently paying most of its workers R4,500 (USD307), which is less than half this living wage. On the other hand, Shoprite’s CEO Pieter Engelbrecht’s salary package for 2018 was R20.3 million (over USD 1.38 million).
At the rally of the striking workers in Cape Town today, participants raised placards demanding R12,500 a month and ‘equal work for equal pay’, the insourcing of all workers and the abolition of the use of labour brokers by the company to avoid having permanent employees who are entitled to certain benefits.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), to which GIWUSA is affiliated, said in a statement that “Transpharm is already using the highly restrictive labour laws, passed late last year, which include [compulsory] secret balloting before workers can embark on strike action and other picketing rules, to stifle the rights of workers to struggle for decent wages and working conditions.”
“In an attempt to undermine the strike action, in line with the.. said stringent labour laws, the company has applied for a court order to interdict the workers,” SAFTU added, declaring its “full support” for the strike action.
SAFTU has also said that it will begin mobilization to build up “a national campaign against these draconian labour laws, as well as fight for the living wage of R12,500 demanded by the Transpharm workers.”