Telkom subsidiary CEB Maintenance Africa to strike over lay-offs

Kimberley - By 16:31 on Wednesday, a countrywide strike in the IT sector will be in full swing.

This follows a 48-hour notice by trade union Media Workers Association of South Africa (Mwasa).

CEB Maintenance Africa, a subsidiary of Telkom through Business Connexion, has decided to retrench "for truly flimsy reasons", claimed an employee.

The company has existed for over 22 years and employs over 850 workers to provide IT services, primarily to the retail sector countrywide.

According to sources close to the process, the company recently lost a R26m monthly Spar contract after 18 years.

Apparently this translates to 12% of turnover and is equivalent to 120 employees.

The affected employee states that the company decided to reduce cost of sales to improve profit margins.

Organised labour was served a notice in terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) for consultation on imminent retrenchments.

Botswana and Namibian operations, along with local offices in Limpopo, Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Nelspruit and Cape Town, were included in a list from CEB Maintenance Africa.

"(When) We asked the union to request a 'cost basket' we were informed that actually, it is not about too many hands and too little work after the loss of the Spar contract," said another affected employee.

Responding to a question as to why the  Botswana and Namibian operations, which are allegedly out of jurisdiction, are included, "we were told that these operations constitute significant cost", added the employee.

Employees are upset that company executives like Alison Johnston run up to two portfolios. Mwasa general secretary Tuwani Gumani claimed there was no written response following consultations with the company. Instead, 30 workers were dismissed with immediate effect as of last Thursday.

Johnston would not say why she allegedly runs two posts on her own amid the impasse, directing all queries to group CEO Desmond Poulter. He said: "We confirm that we will retrench 30 employees nationally due to operational requirements; this will not affect service levels."'  

Poulter added the company will also endeavour to provide support to all affected employees. There is however a possibility of a last-ditch meeting under facilitation of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to resolve protected industrial action.

Meanwhile, CEB Maintenance Africa maintenance saw fit to provide information requested earlier only after the 60-day consultation period had lapsed, according to a source.

Gumani said Mwasa is not 'cynical' about the strike action. "The act provides for meaningful consultation. Workers have many challenges such as racism, job reservation and the whole apartheid bells and whistles shebang."

He explained that the strike will seriously affect many retail companies run by "greedy people".

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) was not available for comment. Trade union Solidarity promised to respond but had not done so by the time of publishing.

Both CWU and Solidarity reportedly agreed to the retrenchments. 

CEB Maintenance Africa had strong words for the striking workers. Unusually, the communication came from company lawyers Snyman Attorneys, and stated that the company refuses to deliberate further on the cause of the strike.

"Our client has now issued notices of termination of Section 189 A of the LRA ( Labour Relations Act) to all retrenched employees. Your members are free to pursue whatever action you deem appropriate; if your members strike, so be it.

"Our client will not express its views on the appropriateness of such a course of action at this time, our clients' rights are reserved," stated the letter.