Freight staff fired following illegal strike claim religious discrimination

2017-02-09 16:16
About 300 staff members working at the Time Freight depot in Durban downed tools claiming that they were being religiously discriminated against at work. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

About 300 staff members working at the Time Freight depot in Durban downed tools claiming that they were being religiously discriminated against at work. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – A dispute over claims of religious discrimination between a group of employees and management at a road freight company has had a bitter ending.

Time Freight CEO Etienne van Ravesteyn on Thursday confirmed that a number of employees had been dismissed following what the company believed was an illegal and unprotected strike.

On Tuesday morning, about 300 staff members - mostly men - gathered outside the company's Durban depot in protest against a manager they believed was religiously discriminating against them.

The manager, they alleged, would not allow the employees to observe their religious beliefs at the work place, but he allegedly wore his traditional religious accessories.

The employees' claims included that they were not permitted to wear iziphandla (traditional wristbands) and men who belonged to the Nazareth Baptist Church were allegedly forced to shave their heads and beards, a practice which goes against the church's beliefs.

Van Ravesteyn on Tuesday explained that in November last year, employees at the company's Durban depot withheld their services in protest against the manager's alleged behaviour. An independent hearing found that while the manager fell short of expected standards, no summary dismissal was warranted.

'Dishonest, disrespectful'

Despite the fact that the company, employees, and trade unions agreed to be bound by the outcome, some employees were still unhappy. Since then, several attempts had been made to resolve the dispute.

The employees' strike was unprotected and the company was dealing with it in terms of South Africa's labour laws, Van Ravesteyn said.

He said the company did not tolerate behaviour that was dishonest or disrespectful.

"A number of individuals continued to cause disruptions at the Time Freight Durban depot in direct contravention of a court order that was issued by the Labour Court of South Africa on January 6."

It is not clear how many employees have been dismissed.

Shop steward fired

"The company remains committed to resolving the current disruption through the correct formal channels and has invited employees, ex-employees and Satawu [South African Transport and Allied Workers Union] to make written representations in this regard."

He said these had not been forthcoming.

He added that the company was more than happy to engage with independent bodies through the correct channels in order to verify compliance with the laws and Constitution of South Africa.

Among the employees who have been dismissed was the group's shop steward, Lindelani Shange.

Shange claimed that when he arrived at work on Monday there were heavily armed security guards manning the gate.

"Most of us received letters informing us that we were being dismissed because we refuse to go back to work until they deal with the manager."

'We refuse to work with him'

Shange, who has worked at the company for more than 10 years, said he wanted his job back because he had a child to look after.

Another employee, Ian Radebe, said the group of employees had hoped their grievances would be dealt with more effectively.

"We handed over the grievances so that action could be taken against the manager but no steps were taken against him."

Radebe said members of the executive intervened and there was a decision to get an independent chairperson to probe the matter.

According to Radebe, the hearing was held on December 12 last year.

"He was found guilty of all four charges but they only gave him a formal warning and he was allowed to come to work on January 16. We refuse to work with this manager," said Radebe.

Court battle over jobs

While the employees claimed that there was religious discrimination, provincial secretary of Satawu Edgar Mbina said of the four charges that the manager was found guilty of religious discrimination was not among them.

"There is no proof of that that he was racially discriminating against the employees."

Mbina said the charges against the manager included gross negligence and violation of the main agreement, which governs wages and other conditions of employment.

He said the union was going to court on February 24 to defend the dismissed employees.

"We are following all procedure and our responsibility is to go and defend those workers in terms of the legal expectations which will be ruled by the court.

"If there were issues of race and religious discrimination on the table we would have taken the employer straight to the Constitutional Court," he said.

CEO of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Religious‚ Cultural and Linguistic Communities' [CRL] Edward Mafadza said the commission would intervene.

"We want to mediate so that we can come up with solutions. We want to have this matter sorted out by Tuesday," he said.

Read more on:    satawu  |  durban  |  religion  |  culture

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