Fired workers call for help from metro

Trollip asked to step in and end 16 years of hardship for Eastern Cape families

Hundreds of former Volkswagen employees who were dismissed from the Uitenhage company nearly 16 years ago approached Nelson Mandela Bay’s new municipal leadership yesterday in a fresh bid for assistance and financial relief.

The former employees, who formed part of a group of about1 300 who were dismissed by the car maker during labour unrest in 2000, took advantage of the DA’s first official engagement in Uitenhage and marched on the Town Hall where newly elected mayor Athol Trollip was announcing the metro’s new mayoral committee.

About 200 placard-bearing marchers, who claim they are in dire financial straits, staged a peaceful march to the steps of the hall where they handed a memorandum to newly elected Nelson Mandela Bay city council speaker Jonathan Lawack.

Escorted by police, the marchers were accompanied by a number of children who silently brandished placards at the entrance to the hall.

The former workers’ memorandum was read out to officials and fellow marchers, who were mostly elderly men and women.

In the memorandum, readout by march organiser and group spokesman Job Cyster, the workers demanded assistance on a range of issues.

“We need houses. About 100 former employees have been evicted from their homes[since the dismissals].“Many of us are ill and at least 200 have serious medical problems, including amputations,”Cyster said.

“About 400 people have died in these 16 years, leaving widows and orphans.

“Our group comprises people aged between their late 40s and 50s. They cannot get new jobs due to their age.”

The workers had accrued about “10 000 years’ collective service to Volkswagen” and their children were now being disadvantaged and discriminated against, Cyster said.

“We have no money to educate our children and specifically to give them tertiary education.

“We lost the benefit of this assistance for our children when we were dismissed.

“We have not received any UIF payments and we have lost our pension and provident funds. This has been dragging on for 16 years and we need assistance,” Cyster said.

Another marcher, who was not identified, told the crowd that the  children of the former employees were suffering greatly, with some walking 5kmto school and others regularly going to sleep without food.

“Some kids are selling their bodies for food,” the woman said.

Accepting the memorandum, Lawack said he would hand it to Trollip.

Later, Cyster, who alleged there had been political interference in the dismissals, told The Herald his group was looking to the DA for assistance following the change in political leadership in the Bay.

Responding to a request for comment, Volkswagen’s group communications general manager, Matt Gennrich, noted that the issue around the workers surfaced regularly, but that the company regarded the matter as closed.

“We followed all the legal process [in the dismissals],”he said.

“The matter was heard and decided in favour of VWSA by the courts in South Africa as well as the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.

“We regard this matter as closed and have no further comment,” Gennrich said.

The workers were dismissed during February 2000 after they had embarked on an unprotected strike and following extensive efforts by the company to get them to return.

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