On 3 November 2015, Oceana announced their decision to continue operations at their Hout Bay fishmeal factory, following a labour consultation process initiated after their proposed closure in August 2015. Through an agreement signed between Oceana and their employees, operations will increase to a minimum of 120 production days annually.
Fresh Air for Hout (FAHB) has always appreciated the complex nature of this situation and understands there is no easy solution. First and foremost, we are relieved to know there is job security for the 98 workers at the factory and we recognise the valuable contribution this makes to the economic stability of many families.
We do, however, remain concerned about the negative impact of the odour on everyday life, and on the positive growth and development of Hout Bay. We maintain that the odour negatively impacts local businesses, decreases tourism potential and sustainable economic opportunity, compromises the health and well-being of residents, and does not contribute to creating a positive environment for anyone.
The increase of production will only exacerbate this and we do not believe that full consideration has been made of the broader implications on society.
We are equally concerned that the profits from an increase of production will not be felt by local communities, but will instead only add to the ever-increasing profit of Oceana. We will welcome evidence to the contrary from Oceana.
It appears that workers will no longer be employed year-round and Oceana indicates that they will instead be guaranteed two days of work per week, irrespective of fish availability, and in line with historic wage rates. The Food and Agricultural Union (FAWU) commented “the company cannot afford to pay them like before”. We are concerned that this decision does not significantly benefit the workers or improve socio-economic conditions of local communities.
While we welcome the commitment from Oceana to invest up to R11 million on improving plant facilities, we note this is an interesting departure from earlier statements indicating that best practice was already being implemented. We look forward to receiving more information about how this investment will contribute to a smell reduction and how the community can be involved in this process.
We have noticed mixed reactions to the announcement on our social media sites.
Some people have expressed happiness at the factory remaining open. Others have suggested the entire process was an elaborate public relations stunt on the part of Oceana, and the proposed closure was a way of eliciting support from the community to justify their continued operations. By placing blame on the ‘minority group’ of complainants for the proposed closure, Oceana are now able to show their ‘responsibility and commitment’ to the community by keeping the factory open.
Many believe the decision is unethical, that money, politics and corporate gain have been placed ahead of the sustainable and positive growth of our community.
In truth, we remain in much the same position as before. No studies have been conducted, no surveys have been completed, no authentic engagement process has been undertaken. Even the most basic information, such as how long the factory has been in operation, remains elusive; Oceana initially stated the factory was established 57 years ago but now claim 65 years. It is not possible to make an informed decision about the best situation for Hout Bay when even the most basic information does not exist.
FAHB remains committed to its objective of eliminating the smell from the fish factory.
We believe the best way to move forward is to conduct sound social, economic and environmental research, accompanied by a community engagement process, to determine the most sustainable solution for Hout Bay. We have engaged with people and community groups across all sectors of society and will continue to do so. We also remain committed to further engagement and on-going communication with Oceana and the City of Cape Town.
Many questions remain. How will the emissions be monitored? How will the complaints be considered? Will health studies be conducted? Is the City of Cape Town exploring opportunities for a long-term plan that promotes the sustainable development of Hout Bay?
Members of FAHB will attend a briefing session with Oceana on 4 November 2015 where we hope some of these questions will be answered. A further update will be released on our website relating to this.
FAHB still believes there is great opportunity to better utilise resources in the harbour to maximise benefits for local communities, and we will continue to work collaboratively to bring about positive change in Hout Bay.