Union slams Aspen ‘jobs massacre’

CUTTING BACK: Jobs are on the line at pharmaceutical giant Aspen Pharmacare’s production facilities in Port Elizabeth and East London
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Union members representing Aspen Pharmacare workers expressed objections at the weekend to the proposed retrenchment of 600 employees, saying it was a “massacre of jobs”.

The  Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) said the proposed retrenchment made no sense as many of its members were working overtime.

Ceppwawu regional co-ordinator Karools Adams said the company could not claim to be undertaking transformation when instead of creating more job opportunities for black people the company was, in fact, doing the opposite by “closing employment for the majority”.

“Our members raise their strongest objection to the massacre of 600 jobs because while notices were issues on the 14 August 2020  and while we are still in the process of consultation with regard to retrenchments, our members are working overtime,” Adams said.

He said the recruitment of staff was still taking place and managers who had been retrenched in a previous retrenchment process in December were now back at the company on a fixed contract basis.

Adams said they had resolved to mobilise their members after 60 days to engage in any lawful action to prevent the 600 job losses.

“We have already consulted with Sanco, a community-based organisation of which our members form part, to support them in this struggle to save jobs at Aspen Pharmacare.

“We are also in the process of consulting all progressive political parties to join forces with the workers’ plight during these difficult times,” Adams said.

Sanco’s Mxolisi Mani said the organisation was shocked by the potential job losses.

“While these workers have been undergoing severe pains during the pandemic where some companies were forced to lockdown all activities in terms of production, this affected their incomes which drastically caused a shift in their responsibilities as they are breadwinners in their households,” Mani said.

He said Sanco was convinced that the retrenchments were affecting not just Aspen workers but society at large.

“We, therefore, pledge our support in all activities planned by Ceppawu and we will further mobilise our communities and other strategic stakeholders to boycott Aspen Products until management comes to its senses.

“We form part of the platform that will petition our government to suspend contracts with Aspen till the issues about this brutal illegitimate retrenchment of workers [have been addressed].”

When contacted for comment Aspen’s Shauneen Beukes said she would respond on Monday while her colleague Sibu Mxolisi Siwundla referred The Herald to a letter sent out to staff on August 14 as well as a media releases sent out on the same day.

“It provides a trail of the company’s processes and rationale in enacting the second phase of its transformation journey,” Siwundla said.

In the letter, Aspen Pharmacare’s executive head of pharm finished dose form operations, Grant Swart, told staff on Friday this was a result of the growing global economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

“This painful, but necessary, process is essential to ensure Aspen remains globally competitive and sustainable.”

He said the figure of 600 people whose jobs were at risk would probably be reduced later.

“The final number will be determined once the employee consultations have been completed, including consideration of alternatives to involuntary separations and on other relevant issues.

“As we face this economic uncertainty, our number-one priority is securing the long-term viability of our business,” he said.

“By doing nothing, we risk losing more ground to highly competitive peers, both here at home and abroad.

“Our pilot studies have compellingly demonstrated that improving operational efficiencies will make our business vastly more competitive in terms of our cost, productivity, quality and delivery,” he said.


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