The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns in the strongest terms the management of United Pharmaceutical Distribution (UPD) for shooting at unarmed defenseless workers during a picket!

Workers at UPD in Gauteng have been on strike since Monday to demand higher wages and improved benefits. On Tuesday, a private security company fired on workers with rubber bullets, on the instruction of the company. At least five workers were treated for their injuries as a result. We have opened a case at the police station because we intend to pursue this matter.

UPD is a pharmaceutical distribution company which is part of the Clicks group and supplies them with pharmaceutical products. They also provide hospitals with surgical equipment.  The management team at UPD does not want the world to know that they abuse workers through labour brokers. Hundreds of their employees are exploited by Labour brokers and UPD is blatantly ignoring the labour law judgement which calls for them to be made permanent after three months.

Below are some of the other issues which have caused workers to withdraw their labour at the company:

  1. UPD practices Apartheid in the workplace. White workers earn more than African workers who do the same work.
  2. The company claims there is a provident fund and is deducting money from workers for it, but it refuses to disclose details about the fund, they don’t produce annual statements and they refuse to disclose who is running the fund. This is the same with the medical aid. The employer deducts monies for Medical aid, but they don’t provide information on who the service provider is, or the employers contributions. UPD claims these deductions are legal, but there is nothing to support that claim.
  3. We demand a 15% wage increase across the board because UPD pays poverty wages. The lowest earning workers earns R3 000 per month.

We demand that the management team at UPD must engage meaningfully with these demands, instead of attempting to bully our members into submission through violence and court interdicts.

We are asking ourselves why are they hiding details of the Provident Fund? What kind of corruption is taking place at the company that would justify withholding information of the Provident Fund administrators? Why won’t they disclose information on the medical Aid contributions?

Until we receive answers to these and other pertinent questions, the strike will continue. We welcome the decision of the Labour Court which dismissed the companies attempts to interdict the strike. The court and the CCMA also clarified the picketing rules so that UPD has no justification for shooting at unarmed workers who are merely exercising their right to strike.

We salute our members and the courageous workers at UPD who are standing up for their rights and fighting for a better life for their families. You are the true heroes of the struggle. NUMSA will continue to do all it can to fight for you and defend you in this battle.

No retreat, no surrender!

Issued by Phakamile Hlubi-Majola

NUMSA National Spokesperson