One of South Africa’s leading agricultural and agri-processing business’, Tongaat Hulett, reported an operating profit for the year ending 31 March 2018 at R1,958 billion. This is a decline from 2017 which reported a profit of R2,333 billion.

Even with such a decline in profit, the industry performed better than other sectors such as mining treating its workers better. This shows resilience of the sugar sector.

It is this resilience that saw the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) National Treasurer’s, Cde Jimmy Gama, characterising this sector as a “white and brown gold industry”.

Cde Gama made these remarks while addressing a mass meeting outside Durban in February of this year where he called on employers to improve working conditions.

The irony is, even with positive results in this industry, its workers are some of the least paid workers across industries.

The company decried industry conditions as the reason behind the profit decline.

“The sugar operations were adversely affected by the dynamics of imports into the South African market, low international sugar prices and the impact of stronger local currencies on export realisations.

The company added that, “sugar production reflected a partial recovery from the drought conditions of the previous two seasons.”

For workers, these are just passing numbers as companies in this sector refuse to improve their livelihoods and working conditions.

The industry is currently embroiled in wage sector negotiations were majority unions declared a deadlock.

AMCU expressed willingness to find solutions for the better of workers, a call that has fallen on deaf ears.

Until this deadlock is resolved and bread and batter issues affecting workers are addressed, the positive performance of this business and sugar industry as a sector will continue benefiting only company bosses and shareholders.

“A final dividend of 60 cents per share (2017: 200 cents per share) has been declared bringing the annual dividend to 160 cents per share (2017: 300 cents per share),” read the company statement announcing another impressive payout for shareholders.

The question remains, what about workers?

29 May 2018 by Trust Matsilele