strike at vaccine factory

Kea' Modimoeng

Kea' Modimoeng

A labour war has erupted at Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), an animal vaccine producer.

The manufacturer, 51percent owned by the Department of Agriculture, has been accused by its employees of mismanagement.

Workers at OBP in Pretoria, who are represented by the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), have lashed out at the company for mismanagement, misuse of company funds by frequently changing senior management and nepotism.

They have appealed to the agriculture minister to reincorporate the company into government.

According to employees, the labour dispute at OBP will cause a shortfall in supply to many farmers across South Africa.

"There is an outbreak of Rift Valley fever disease in KwaZulu-Natal, because of the current conflict at OBP. Farmers cannot get vaccines on time to vaccinate their livestock and the poor animals are dying because of this."

Workers have engaged in go-slow protest actions and have refused to work overtime until their demands are met.

According to a company insider, workers were told that the company did not make profits in the 2007 financial year but it later emerged that a R1million profit had been made from "investments".

"If the company makes profits, employees are entitled to a share of profits.

"We, the poor employees are suffering as time and again millions of rands are missing in this company in the hands of the corrupt management.

"The company should also learn to retain senior staff as it changed five to six chief executives in nine years," the source said.

Yesterday, Nehawu representatives were to meet with management in a bargaining forum, but the meeting was cancelled because the union objected to the chairperson who is a manager at OBP.

Another meeting has been scheduled for next week.

At the time of going to print the company said it was "not in a position" to comment.

At the company's centenary celebrations last year, President Kgalema Motlanthe said government was convinced of the fact that the agricultural sector was critical to the economic development of rural areas and the country as a whole.