Johnson & Johnson is retrenching 114 workers from the end of this month.
The company is one of the biggest manufacturers of medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer products in South Africa.
It emerged yesterday the East London-based company has resorted to shutting down three production lines – baby shampoo, baby powder and aqueous creams – to stay afloat.
The company currently employs 53 permanent workers and approximately 1200 contractors.
The 114 affected workers belong to the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu). They were employed through a Johannesburg-based labour broker company called Manpower.
The average length of service among the workers ranges from eight to 12 years.
The Daily Dispatch has seen correspondence between Ceppwawu and Manpower stating workers who will lose their jobs on May 31, will be entitled to about three weeks’ pay for each year of service.
In an impassioned plea to Manpower and Johnson & Johnson, Ceppwawu leader Mzwandile Mpofu said: “The year 2017 has been a challenging year economically for most businesses in South Africa. This year is an indication the South African economy has not fully recovered from the knock-on effect of the cabinet reshuffle in December 2015 that saw the then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene being replaced by MP David van Rooyen, coupled with the volatile market conditions in light of the recent economic downgrades by ratings agencies.”
Mpofu proposed that before Johnson & Johnson retrenched his members, the company needed to first consider:
- Exploring measures to increase productivity;
- Stopping working overtime on Saturday and Sundays;
- Rationalising cost and expenditure;
- Offering voluntary retrenchment and early retirement;
- Introducing short time;
- Increasing the number of shifts to absorb more workers;
- Skills development programmes so employees would have opportunity to move to other different positions; and
- Transferring retrenchees to other sites.
However, Manpower’s Vicki Marais-Swanepoel shot down Mpofu’s proposals saying they were not viable.
“Your proposals have been considered and discussed [with Johnson & Johnson]. As explained by them, the retrenchments are due to the de-commissioning of three production lines.
“The consequence of this is that none of the proposals that have been duly considered, are viable,” Marais-Swanepoel wrote to Mpofu.
Mpofu suggested a future job placement scheme in the company to cushion the impact, including that retrenched workers be considered for possible employment should employment opportunity becomes available.
Marais-Swanepoel said that future requirements of the operation would determine as and when retrenched employees will be required to work.
According to Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Laura Nel, consultation with workers regarding retrenchment began as early as last year.
Among those affected is Mdantsane NU2 single mother Noxolo Ntsizi, who works as a general worker and whose duties included packing.
“I have been working at the company for eight years and by the end of the month, I will not have a job. I am 39 and I no longer qualify for a government job as the required age is between 18 and 35 years,” she said.
Ntsizi said with the R6000 a month Johnson & Johnson salary she was able to look after her 15-year-old son and two of her late sister’s children, aged four and 10.
She said her late sister, Xoliswa, had also worked for Johnson & Johnson. Asked if she knew why she was being retrenched, Ntsizi said: “The company says it wants to focus on manufacturing the “Big Five” – Vaseline, baby oil, Savlon, sanitary pads and baby powder.