Photography by: Thabiso Molatlhwa
Based in Potchefstroom in the North West, Chubby Chick is one of the success stories of the South African poultry sector . This success is reflected in the fact that they supply to stores such as Woolworths, Nandos and OBC and over the next few years they intend doubling their production to over a million birds a week. Sounds tasty right? Well, not really! Several workers of Chubby Chick went to the Labour Court in Johannesburg a few weeks back to oppose their Human Resources Manager Callie van der Merwe and the company regarding cases of alleged unfair treatment.
Racism, sexual harassment, women abuse and nepotism are many of the violations that are allegedly being experienced by the workers. In 2011 workers who were unfairly dismissed took the company to the Labour Court. The main concern at the time was the alleged racist attacks many of the workers were dealing with. ”Chubby Chick as a company is racist ,”says former employee Lerato Sefularo. “There’s a whites only bathroom, kitchen ,parking lot and canteen. A [black] male worker was harassed , when our [white] HR Manager assaulted him . He humiliated the man by gripping his genitals,” concludes Lerato Sefularo. Workers say that the incidents in the company are recurring. ”Blacks are nothing at Chubby Chick, only whites get promotions. Discrimination is plenty at the company especially in job promotions for the blacks- we are all general workers. We always apply for posts and Carlie van der Merwe our HR is a monster , only gives jobs to his white friends.”
According to James Gadinabokao, secretary of South African National Civic Organisation, Chubby Chick’s has unfairly dismissed 850 workers in the past 3 years – with no verbal warning or first warnings. A final warning would be given to you on the spot and workers are not given any form of sick leave. Workers are required to show up to work regardless of their health condition and many of those who have been working at the factory have allegedly had cases of rheumatoid arthritis due to the cold working conditions.
” It doesn’t matter how many items of clothes I put on when I work in the freezers, it’s still very cold and dangerous,” begins former employee Madithaba Morowekhadi. “We are not supplied with boots or work suits. We work around big butcher knives and many of us have slipped on the floors and have been injured because of this. We want our management to acknowledge our frustrations so we can move forward and continue to work for our families. I am hurt because I have dedicated many years to this company and I have spent a lot of time away from my kids as a night shift worker at Chubby Chick, but we don’t even get paid for working overtime. At the end of the day it’s all about the company’s orders and meeting the deadline,” she concludes.
A worker from the factory said he used to work as an interpreter in the offices and while he was there he says there were many cases of nepotism. Black workers would apply for the posts in the company and ,sooner or later, a person would be appointed , usually a white person. When it comes to wages it’s alleged that white employees would earn starting from R90 000 while blacks only earned R2000. There supposedly aren’t any form of skills development or any employee growth policies.
Phana Motlale was fired in 2008 and she took the company to court. She was allegedly told that she was overweight and that she had a month to lose 10 kg before she could be reinstated to work. ” I asked my HR Manager with what money will I be able to go on a weight loss programme? ” states Motlale. Her case is still pending. She was allegedly never given her provident fund and was unfairly dismissed. Another worker from Chubby Chick, Dipuo Motlou, worked as a shop steward and when her child fell ill she took some time off work to tend of her child. She was allegedly told that 20% of her salary would be taken for the 2 days she missed. In another incident she was dismissed and told that she wouldn’t be able to represent the company as a shop steward because she was fat after falling pregnant with her second child.
Whether or not these allegations are true it’s disappointing to hear about incidents of discrimination, racism and human abuse in the workplace. So what’s the way forward? How do we resolve these issues as society?
SANCO representative Mr Pathike, who was also present at the court proceedings says, that “we want our workers to work in a safe and secure environment. An environment where they can be treated as human beings. We don’t want any racist acts and we want positions and growth in the company, so that our black people can be able to develop”.
Human rights should be acknowledged in all spheres of life. In a working environment especially there is no way we can succeed in if we treat employees with disregard.
The case is still pending at the Labour court.
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