Union wants to call on competition watchdog over Ab InBev retrenchment plans

The Food and Allied Workers Union says it is considering opposing AB InBev's plans to retrench staff on the grounds that it considers the retrenchments a contravention of the terms of the company's merger with SAB Miller.

However, the company insists that it is in compliance with the merger conditions.

The merger was finalised in October of 2016 and created the largest beer brewer in the world. The merger underwent tight scrutiny by Parliament and the Competition Commission as it took place.

AB InBev served staff with notice of intention to retrench in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act at the end of January.

FAWU deputy general secretary, Mngomezulu Mayoyo, told Fin24 on Wednesday afternoon that the union was considering approaching Competition Commissioner Thembinkosi Bonakele, as the union believed AB InBev was flouting the terms of its 2016 merger.

"We will ask the Commissioner if we can approach the Competition Commission to hear us on what we believe is a contravention in the terms of the merger which we allowed to happen," said Mayoyo.

Mayoyo told Fin24 that FAWU met with AB InBev on Wednesday under the auspices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but that the union was not convinced that the case the company made for Section 189 retrenchments was valid.

'We will defend'

"We will defend and make sure that we do not lose jobs through this restructuring process. We had a meeting with the CCMA today. We made it clear that we will not listen to what they are saying. We had a merger agreement with SAB that retrenchments within five years," Mayoyo said.

Mayoyo said the union was convinced that AB InBev was in contravention of the merger agreement because he suspected that the company was capitulating to shareholder pressure to accelerate growth and profits at workers' expense.

"They have started retrenching ahead of the five years. They will claim that this has nothing to do with the merger, but we believe it has to do with it, because the shareholder wants more profit, but the shareholder bought into this company knowing that the merger was happening," he said.

AB InBev External Communications Director Refilwe Masemola said that in order for the business to thrive in a competitive environment, it had to review its structure on a regular basis.

"Our position is clear. This is not a contravention of our merger condition. The company is committed to complying to these conditions and our processes in the CCMA are not in contravention of the conditions," Masemola said.

Masemola said the review of the business structure would affect only a small minority of its workforce in specific areas and not across the business as a whole.

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group documented a meeting with Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Economic Development, during which SAB's vice president of procurement and sustainability David Hauxwell said the company "was not allowed to retrench anybody as that was stipulated in the conditions, but this was a process where people were given an opportunity to either leave the business or to stay".

"The condition was to maintain the number of 5 697 employees and that is where they currently are. They are, however, allowed to retrench for operational reasons if there is a negative economic climate," the Parliamentary Monitoring Group said.

Mayoyo said AB InBev and FAWU would meet again before the CCMA again on Monday 24 February.