MTN Workers Want Zim-Born CEO Out

MTN workers have issued their bosses with a stern warning: meet their demands or experience a strike similar to the one that crippled the South African Post Office last year.

“We are not going to give you space to breathe. We will not kill you, but you will die within the system,” Communication Workers Union, Clyde Mervin, said on Thursday.

Mervin was addressing MTN SA’s chief executive Ahmad Farouk and human resource manager Themba Nyathi in front of employees who gathered during the first day of a strike at the MTN head offices in Fairlands, Johannesburg. The employees were demanding bonuses of 16% and the ban of labour brokers.

Mervin said that, should the mobile operator not yield to the demands, MTN would experience a strike similar to the one experienced by the Post Office last year.

Dressed in red T-shirts, more than 1000 MTN staff members affiliated to the Communication Workers Union sang struggle songs and danced with placards.

After working as a temporary employee for three years, Goodness Khoza said the struggle for her colleagues, most of whom were employed through labour brokers, was not over.

“We want all those who are employed as temps to be permanently employed – from cleaners, to gardeners to call-centre staff.”

Another worker, who did not want her name disclosed, said: “The company has enough money to pay its senior managers million in shares and bonuses, but does not want to pay our bonuses.”

Some of the demands contained in the memorandum include putting an end to all unfair labour practices such as not paying workers double pay for working on public holidays or extra pay for Sundays, and paying night-shift allowances.

National organiser Tshepo Matlou said the leaders of the company were “peddling lies” in the media and were not being honest when they said the company did not recognise the union, because the number of employees paying regular union fees was accounted for.

He accused the three leaders of MTN – Farouk, Nyathi and Sifiso Dabengwa – of being insensitive, irresponsible and not negotiating in good faith when employees made their demands known in March.

Matlou said instead of the employees’ initial 30% bonus demand, the union suggested a revised demand of 16%, which the company was not prepared to meet either.

“When we gave them our demands they said they were going to get back to us. But they were quick to turn to the media to make us look bad … They are yet to make a counter offer to the demands we have been making for months.”

Mervin gave MTN seven days to respond to the demands contained in the memorandum, which was signed by both Nyathi and Farouk with a promise to get back to the union representatives. However, they did not give a specific time frame in which they would do so.

Industrial action normally starts and ends with demands related to salary and compensation, and in cases where corporate fraud is suspected, you’ll get workers calling for the CEO’s head. Xenophobia doesn’t become the focus.

But this in the case of MTN South Africa, things took a slightly different turn. On Wednesday it was reported that in addition to a strike for higher bonuses, the workers from the South African mobile operator, MTN have been calling for the operator’s CEO, Sifiso Dabengwa to step down and return to Zimbabwe.

An image of workers waving a placard preceded by the famous tag #No To Xenophobia also shows the same call for Ahmed Farroukh, MTN’s Chief Operating Executive to return to Lebanon.

Dabengwa, a University Of Zimbabwe Engineering Graduate, has had a decorated career within corporate South Africa that included work at Eskom. At MTN, headed the operator’s Nigerian operations before taking the helm of the telecoms group. He has also been rewarded generously for this.

A R13 million bonus for him along with R6.6 million extended to Farroukh after workers’ bonuses were trimmed to 4% because of a bad financial year in 2014 seems to be the underlying cause of the workers’ frustration.