Three people have been arrested after a Ceres Fruit Growers factory was set alight amid strike action, Western Cape police said on Thursday.
The building went up in flames on Wednesday morning, said Constable Noloyiso Rwexana. She said a 52-year-old woman and two men were arrested for arson later in the day.
Photos on social media showed thick clouds of smoke billowing from the roof as fire engulfed the building.
Workers in the area have been striking for almost two weeks over demands for a wage increase.
Police also arrested four people for public violence after a protest on Wednesday.
Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) general secretary, Katishi Masemola, said they did not have reason to believe their members were involved in the fire.
“I was there on Monday and I addressed workers. We told them violence or disorderly behaviour will not help the cause.”
He said it was possible that “one or two rogue elements” could incite or commit actions that were not acceptable to the union.
“We don’t want our protected strike to fail on the basis of violence.”
The union apparently represented around 80% of some 1 180 workers striking at the storage and packing facility.
They wanted a 12.5% wage increase and a profit-sharing scheme for workers. Masemola said the company was offering a 7.5% increase.
“Our percentage is not a do-or-die. We are prepared to revise downwards but can only do that around the table.”
He said workers had been picketing outside the facility daily.
The company had yet to respond to requests for comment.
Employer body Agri Western Cape said the actions of strikers, and the destruction of a building, would have serious consequences for employment in the area.
“The workers’ source of income, as well as potential job opportunities, is now in jeopardy,” its CEO, Carl Opperman, said.
Western Cape police said Ceres was calm on Thursday morning and that police officers remained on scene. News24