PE companies inspected

Equity concerns chief issue in surprise raids by Labour officials

A swarm of Labour Department officials, led by Deputy Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, swooped yesterday on the Nelson Mandela Bay subsidiaries and distributors of two of the world’s biggest snack and soft drink brands in unannounced inspection raids on businesses in the metro.

The raids targeted two American brands – chocolates and snacks global giant Mondelez, whose products are sold domestically under the Cadbury name, and the newly formed Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) company, which neighbour each other in Port Elizabeth’s Harrower Road.

According to the department, the raids were conducted under the banner of “Workers’ Month” and the theme “How I am protected by my labour laws”.

The department’s inspections, which were launched from its regional offices in Govan Mbeki Avenue early yesterday, were, according to the programme, supposed to also include Zwide-based funeral directors Shweme & Shweme, but this visit was later dropped from the schedule.

Officials said the department’s objectives were to conduct site inspections at the production facilities to check for compliance with occupational health and safety regulations.

Also checked were adherence to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and whether they were compliant with unemployment insurance (UIF) and workers’ compensation fund obligations, among other regulations.

Communications distributed to the media prior to yesterday’s raids referred to “unannounced inspections on firms that persistently contravene various labour laws” and “various companies and firms in this area known for serial contraventions of labour legislations such as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act”.

However, journalists at the briefing held prior to the inspections were told that the companies had been randomly selected for inspection.

An important component of the inspections was whether the two companies were compliant with employment equity regulations.

This included whether they were meeting targets and facilitating employment equity forums, and whether they were implementing the employment equity plans they are obliged to submit to the Department of Labour.

While the need for wage and salary harmonisation that came about as a result of the mergers which led to the creation of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa was an issue at CCBA, employment equity forums and plans emerged as yesterday’s biggest issues at both companies.

These saw a department official threatening CCBA with court action that could lead to a R1.5-million fine.

Asked whether the company had a Department of Labour-recognised employment equity plan in place, a CCBA human resources manager, Sandra Knoetze, acknowledged that the company’s previous plan had expired in 2015 and that no new plan had been drawn up or implemented in the wake of the mergers and emergence of CCBA last year.

When she informed the officials that the company had been in contact with the department regarding the submission of a new plan, an unnamed department official immediately refuted Knoetze’s assertions, telling her that the department would not even issue a notice towards compliance.

“You will just go straight to court where you will get a R1.5-million fine,” the official said.

At Mondelez, where the company told the department it had met 25% of its employment equity targets as per its plan, union shop stewards took the company to task over the lack of employment equity forum meetings, which were last convened in November.

Responding that forum members had left the company in the interim, meaning that new forum committee members needed to be found and trained, the company said it would hold a forum meeting next month.

Speaking on the sidelines of the inspections, Holomisa said companies were aware of the history of the country and therefore needed to step up their transformation efforts.

“We need radical change. Punitive measures have now been introduced to enforce transformation and we need to use these punitive measures to ensure transformation takes place,” he warned.

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