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Bridgestone plant shuttered

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Electricity to tyre maker Bridgestone’s Brits plant was unlawfully disconnected last month by the Madibeng Municipality, shutting the plant for four days.

The facility employs more than 800 people and was closed from midday Friday, January 13 until the evening of January 16 after the municipality defied a court interdict preventing it from disconnecting the factory’s power.

Bridgestone is the world’s largest tyre maker, with over 180 manufacturing and research facilities in 25 countries. Its South African arm includes two tyre manufacturing plants, numerous satellite offices and a network of over 300 commercial and retail outlets.

The company, a member of the Brits Industrialists Association (BIA), was one of the applicants which won an interim interdict against the Madibeng Municipality in 2014, which successfully challenged electricity tariff increases pending a court review.

Gavin Young, the company’s CEO, said: “Until the review is heard, Bridgestone’s electricity tariff is the figure determined by the court in the interdict.”

Young said that by cutting off electricity supplies to members of the BIA, the Madibeng Municipality had directly violated the conditions of the court order.

“On January 16, an urgent application for contempt of court was brought by members of the BIA in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria,” he explained. “The judge in the matter found in favour of the BIA and issued an order directing the municipality to restore electricity by 18h00 that evening.”

Young added that Bridgestone had paid all amounts due for its electricity consumption at the tariff set by the court. “The unlawful cut off prevented us from conducting our business,” he said.

In Young’s view, the Madibeng Municipality should have been more sensitive to the impact of its actions on the broader community, with Bridgestone employees being the breadwinners for thousands of residents in the Madibeng area.

“The cut off placed livelihoods in jeopardy and had the potential to harm our standing with Bridgestone’s Japanese parent company,” he said. “It is essential for investor confidence that arms of government operate within the law.”

Young said Bridgestone had not ruled out further legal action against the Madibeng Municipality to recover the costs of the shutdown and lost productivity.

“Now that the plant has been re-started, we will begin to quantify our commercial losses, and our executive team will be taking legal advice on the relief available to us,” he said.

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