Mondi’s plan to create ‘decent work’

June 12, 2012

Mondi's South African forests division has embarked on an ambitious programme to improve working conditions for the thousands of workers employed by their contractors in their plantations around the country. This programme includes the provision of a nutritious meal for field workers every day, health care, training and improved accommodation, and is aimed at ensuring 'decent work' for people employed in Mondi's forestry operations. 

Mondi's canteen in the forest
Bela D Caterers serve a hot meal to forestry workers, St Lucia.
Forestry workers enjoying their meal in the forestry plantation Linda Lang-Gordon for Forests 4 Life
Forestry workers enjoy their hot meal near Richmond.
Linda Lang-Gordon is co-ordinating the Food 4 Forests rollout.
Mondi's dining facilities at Mountain Home Nursery Mondi packing hot meals for forestry workers
Dining facilities at Mountain Home Nursery. Lungile Mkhize (right), ESS health and safety manager for the Food 4 Forests programme, helps pack hot meals for the day.


A mandate to drive the labour improvement programme has come from the Mondi Board and is being enthusiastically tackled by Mondi staff on the ground. If it is successful and proves to be sustainable, it will alter the face of forestry in South Africa and make a significant difference to the quality of life of people living in the rural areas, where poverty runs deepest. The focus areas of the programme are as follows:

Nutrition and hydration

Following the introduction of three pilot projects last year, the Food 4 Forests programme has been rolled out to 8 500 people employed in Mondi plantations in their south and central regions (Zululand, KZN midlands and around Piet Retief).
According to Mondi's Director of Forests, Viv McMenamin, assessments of the pilot projects implemented last year showed that the feeding scheme was well received by both workers and contractors, and that absenteeism dropped
significantly as a result. Further monitoring and research will assess the scheme's impact on safety and productivity.

Eight kitchens on Mondi plantations have been refurbished and upgraded to prepare meals, while another two kitchens have been hired. Three catering companies have been contracted to provide meals, which have in turn created 118 jobs locally. Vegetable gardens are also being established to provide fresh supplies to the caterers and will provide a venue for an agricultural learnership programme.

Health care

Research is being done to come up with a plan to provide health care to field workers. Already a mobile clinic, operating as a pilot project in the Midlands, provides primary health care and voluntary counselling and testing for HIV/Aids.
This is being undertaken in partnership with Bela D Caterers to serve a hot meal to forestry workers, St Lucia. Given the high HIV prevalence rate, estimated at between 40%-60%, the plan is to work towards a comprehensive health care solution for forestry workers.

Education and training

The SA Forestry Contractors' Association has been appointed to co-ordinate the education and training of field workers, to ensure that training providers are accredited and that the training meets the requirements of Mondi's training matrix.

Legal compliance

The aim is to ensure that contractors comply with all relevant legislation, including the Basic Conditions of Employment Act as well as Mondi's Minimum Standards for the Employment of Forestry Workers, aimed at clarifying ambiguities contained within the Forestry Sectoral Determination.

Safe transport and accommodation

A three-year plan to upgrade worker accommodation has commenced, and all vehicles used to transport workers to and from their work site have undergone extensive repairs and reconstruction to ensure compliance with Mondi's safety standards.


Some of the physically toughest tasks, e.g. bark stripping, stacking and pitting, are being reassessed in a bid to come up with better ways of doing them. Mondi's occupational health team has undergone specialised ergonomic training, and a Board mandate to mechanise these activities (where economically, technically and socially feasible) is being pursued.

Mondi Forestry Partners

This programme has been set up by Mondi to provide support to communities who have acquired timberland through the land restitution/reform process, to establish businesses in order to participate effectively in forestry activities.

With nine land restitution claims settled and another six close to being settled, Mondi has already ploughed significant resources into setting up communities to participate in and eventually take over forestry operations.

Serving 8 500 meals a day to forestry field workers in plantations scattered around Zululand, the KZN midlands and the Piet Retief area is a mammoth undertaking. When you take into consideration that a high proportion of those meals are served hot, and that the menu is different every day of the week, then the task becomes even more daunting.

Yet this is exactly what Mondi's ambitious Food 4 Forests programme has been doing for much of 2009, and plans to increase the number of daily meals to around 9 000 next year are in the pipeline. When this target is reached, then all Mondi, Mondi Shanduka Newsprint and SiyaQhubeka Forests field workers from Harding to Piet Retief will be receiving a daily meal at their work site.

Co-ordinating and financing an undertaking like this has required a massive commitment from Mondi, which has taken the bull by the horns to upgrade the quality of forestry work in their plantations.

The cost, at around R23 per meal, is significant. It is expected that the return on this investment will come in the form of higher productivity, improved safety, lower labour turnover and more harmonious industrial relations. Already a significant drop in absenteeism has been noted. Intensive studies are being done to fully gauge the impact of the programme.

Most of the people receiving daily meals are not Mondi employees – they work for contractors on Mondi plantations. Thus, Mondi has had to secure the buy-in and support from the contractors to make the programme work.

Catering company ESS, which is part of the international Compass Group, has been contracted by Mondi to provide meals in some areas, as well as overall support to the programme and to ensure that the 10 kitchens that have been set
up meet international standards. In addition, ESS staff are providing management support and coaching to two BEE catering companies that are providing meals in St Lucia (Bela D) and in Kwambonambi (Come and Save).

We visited one of the kitchens on a plantation near Richmond with Linda Lang-Gordon, Mondi's Food Distribution Specialist, and Alf Ueckermann, Risk Manager Mondi Forest Operations, who are involved in co-ordinating the Food 4 Forests programme for Mondi. When we arrived at around 7.30 am, the day's meals were being packed in special insulated containers to ensure they are served hot. In fact, I was informed that the food has to be kept above 630 C to ensure it stays fresh. Special monitors linked to the kitchen manager's desktop computer, are placed in each container to make sure the temperature never dips below spec.

The Richmond kitchen serves 500 meals a day. Hygiene standards are high, and the high quality stainless steel cooking vessels were being thoroughly scrubbed and washed down. All fresh meals served comprise a protein, a starch, a vegetable, and either a fruit or a mahewu, and have been specially compiled by a nutritionist. Linda said that the aim is to serve hot, freshly cooked meals wherever possible, but that some teams receive cold, pre-packed meals due to the remoteness of the site. All meals are served by 9 am.

There are currently four Mondi kitchens in the KZN midlands, two in Zululand, one in Melmoth and one in Vryheid. Two kitchens, one in Paulpietersburg and one in Piet Retief, are hired.

After the Richmond meals were delivered to workers on the Highland plantation, we headed up to Hilton and Mondi's Mountain Home Nursery where another kitchen supplies 140 meals a day to workers in surrounding areas.

The number of meals served from this kitchen is set to increase to 350 per day when Mondi Shanduka Newsprint comes on board.

A number of workers I chatted to as they settled down to enjoy their lunch said they were very happy to receive a daily meal, and that it gave them the strength to complete their tasks.

On-going work is being done to upgrade kitchens and dining facilities around the country, while Mondi is implementing associated projects such as establishing worm farms to produce rich organic fertiliser for vegetable gardens, and more recently completing a massive 800 worker survey in order to measure the Food 4 Forests programme's effectiveness.

Published in Nov/Dec 2009

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