Truth about Mustek’s fight with striking workers

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it launched strike action against Mustek on 16 September 2021, describing the company as “ruthless and racist”.

This is after a year-long dispute over salaries and other matters came to a head, the union said in a statement issued last week.

“The company refused to bargain, indicating that it is only the board that can determine salary increases and other bargaining matters,” the CWU stated.

“The company showed a total disregard to workers well-being and absolute anti-union semantics.”

According to the Union, Mustek fired shop stewards on allegations of violating social distancing regulations the night before the strike.

“Furthermore, the company attempted to cut the union’s subscription and proposed for workers salary cuts citing the company’s financial difficulties during the lockdown,” said the union.

“To paint the picture clearly, the majority of the factory level workers who have between 10 to 15 years of service earn a mere R6,500 on average, yet the Group CEO David Kan takes home R8,018,000 per annum.”

The CWU also accused Mustek of using “all the tricks in the book” during a previous eight-month strike to discontinue the labour action.

This included initiating wrongful arrests of workers, with the union saying that most were acquitted in court.

“They further continue to demonstrate their disregard to a right of a worker to strike and protest as they have charged and suspended all workers on strike, with a shocking number of 53 already having been dismissed,” the CWU said.

“This includes making workers choose between being charged or resigning from the company. It is worth mentioning that at first, all workers were forced to resign from the union.”

MyBroadband contacted Mustek for comment regarding the union’s allegations, and managing director Hein Engelbrecht said that the CWU’s letter was misleading.

He explained that the union’s initial demands were outlandish. They were:

  • 20% salary increase
  • 30% profit share scheme
  • R3,000 housing allowance
  • Medical and provident fund added to employees’ cost-to-company, rather than being deducted from their gross salaries
  • Additional employee incentives

This would increase Mustek’s salary bill by 45%, which Engelbrecht said they obviously couldn’t afford.

Engelbrecht said there were some back-and-forth negotiations between the parties initially, but ultimately the union gave notice on 16 September 2020 that its members were going on strike.

Mustek Assembly Line (9)
Mustek assembly line

The strike wore on for months, with the union only calling it off six weeks ago.

Eventually, Mustek decided not to budge on any of the demands, offering the staff their regular increases and no more.

Engelbrecht said that the workers who were arrested and against whom disciplinary action is being taken were violent during the strike.

He said that some of their student workers were hit with sticks, cars were stoned, customers were intimidated, and roads into the premises were blocked.

As a result of the violent behaviour, Mustek went to labour court and received a restraint order, which the union and strikers ignored.

Police enforced the court order, and some of the strikers were arrested.

Engelbrecht said that they have video footage and witnesses for the disciplinary investigation.

He also explained that staff were allowed to strike on a no-work-no-pay basis.

When some strikers wanted to come back to work, Mustek required that they resign from the union.

“It is nonsense that workers were forced to resign from the union,” said Engelbrecht. Staff were only told they needed to resign if they wanted to return to work during the strike.

Mustek said that you were either part of the bargaining unit or not.

You couldn’t be part of the labour action going on outside while simultaneously doing your regular job for your regular pay inside.

Regarding the CWU’s claim that Mustek pays the majority of experienced factory-level workers an average of R6,500 per month — Engelbrecht said this was patently false.

He said the average salary of a Mustek employee with between 5 and 15 years of experience is R16,400.

The staff paid between R5,000 and R7,000 per month are either cleaning or kitchen staff, or students that the company has absorbed that work on its shop floor.

Of the company’s 663 permanent staff, only eight earn between R6,000 and R7,000.

Nearly 75%, 497 staff members, earn over R10,000 per month.

Hein Engelbrecht, Mustek MD

Aside from the misleading information regarding salaries, Engelbrecht said that the union doesn’t have permission to strike again.

CWU’s members will be exercising their Constitutional right to demonstrate, but they are not allowed to picket.

Engelbrecht said that if the demonstrators have the necessary permissions, leave the rest of the staff alone, and do not intimidate customers or damage property, there won’t be any problems.

The last demand they received from the union was that Mustek had to “forgive and forget” the strikers who were facing disciplinaries, and take them all back.

However, Engelbrecht said that they could not agree to that demand.

“We are being fair in our disciplinary process,” he said.

“We pride ourselves in looking after our staff. We paid full salaries the whole the way through [the Covid–19 lockdown], even when our staff were sitting at home,” said Engelbrecht.

He noted that they gave salary increases this year, with entry-level employees receiving 10%. Others received 8.5% and 6% increases, while executive directors received 4%.

“We have always been fair. If anything, our management has always been staff-first,” Engelbrecht said.


Now read: Millions in damage after Mustek building burned to the ground

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Truth about Mustek’s fight with striking workers