Alleged racial slur allegations heat up

2017-06-28 06:01
PHOTO: Makhosandile ZuluThe dismissed workers.

PHOTO: Makhosandile ZuluThe dismissed workers.

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MORE than 400 workers were dismissed from a timber door manufacturing plant in Pietermaritzburg last Wednesday following a protest preceded by the downing of tools by the workers over an alleged racist row between a plant management official and a shop steward.

[Former] Employees at the plant and Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) and Building and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Bawusa­) shop stewards spoke to Echo on Wednesday outside the plant, who were part of the protest and were waiting for the outcome of a meeting between workers’ representatives and the manufacturer’s management.

According to shop steward Tuso Shezi­, on May 9, one of the directors allegedly called one employee a “baboon­”.

He said the employee then reported the incident to the shop steward committee who then sent a statement to company management regarding the alleged slur.

“But management just swept the issue under the carpet, which led to workers questioning the way management handled the matter by not suspending the accused director,” Shezi said.

He said the company, however, on May 22, suspended two shop stewards, adding that following pressure from other shop stewards, the plant’s management eventually charged the accused director for allegedly making a racist and derogatory statement.

Shezi said the suspension of the two shop stewards gave rise to the mass workers’ protest with employees saying if management did not deal with the alleged insult, but could suspend the two shop stewards, then they, the workers, would stand in solidarity with those suspended and face the same fate. However, Echo learnt from a source, who requested anonymity, that the two shop stewards were suspended after they allegedly assaulted the said director­.

Shezi said with workers downing tools, the matter eventually landed in the labour court, which ruled that the workers should return to work.

“But the workers said they would not return to work if the two shop stewards remained on suspension and the director had not faced disciplinary action,” he said.

The protesters outside the plant last Wednesday said the dismissal was unfair and the issue over the alleged racist remark had not been handled accordingly.

Another shop steward, Thulane Jobe­ (Sithole) said: “The employer said we are being dismissed for taking part in an illegal protest, but that is not the case.”

Jobe said this is not the first time the director has allegedly made similar comments to employees.

“In 2002, he called a worker a baboon,­ too, and that ended with the company paying each employee at the time R500 compensation for his comments.

“This is the third time he has [allegedly] called an employee a baboon.”

A plant manager, Chris Du Toit, said he could not comment on the matter as it was still under legal review when contacted for comment on Wednesday.

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