Dept probing child labour claim

2010-09-15 14:05

Bloemfontein - The labour department has opened a case of "possible child labour" against an illegal Free State timber-cutting operation, it said on Wednesday.

"A young boy was found on the site, we're not sure how old he is as the employer has no documents for any of the workers," department spokesperson Wisane Mavasa said in a statement.

"We asked the boy how old he is, but he keeps changing his story. He first told us he was born in 1999 and then said he wasn't."

Mavasa said in terms of the law the department had to open a case of child labour, against the Sunray Timber Company in Zastron, because it was possible the boy was younger than 15.

"The employer will have to prove to the court that he (the boy) is above age."

Mavasa said the timber company was operating illegally.

"The owner had not informed the department of labour on the intended work on the site and there was no office or documentation available to prove compliance by the employer on labour laws, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, registration and contribution to the unemployment insurance fund (UIF) as well as to the compensation fund."

The timber company was issued with a notice to stop using all machinery, including a forklift and wood cutters, until it could prove a risk assessment had been done, induction training was given to workers on the use of machinery, safeguarding signs were visible and firefighting equipment was available.

The inspectors found workers were being underpaid and overworked for a daily wage. There were no sleeping and ablution facilities, except for an old trailer covered with a canvas.

Workers were only being paid R40 a day for a 70 hour week, she said.

According to the law, a forestry worker must be paid R1221.83 a month or R6.26 per hour and should not work more than 45 hours a week, plus 10 hours overtime.

Mavasa said the department was working with Home Affairs and the police to collect the names of workers, determine their nationality and see if they were registered with the UIF.