Staying home for his rights

“Get up, stand up – stand up for your rights!” Bob Marley wailed – but a Port Elizabeth Rastafarian was told to get up and not report for work for a while when he did just that.
With his strong Rastafarian beliefs, and practices which involve the use of marijuana, Fabian Ragaval – who was suspended from his job last month after refusing to undergo a second drug test when a first one proved positive – is distraught.
He claims his rights and religion have been infringed upon after he refused to undergo the second drug test, part of an annual medical assessment, at Welfit Oddy.
Forklift driver Ragaval, 29, of Malabar Extension Six, said in seven years at the company he had been asked to do a drug test only once.
Having spent the last month at home, unable to work as his employer deemed him unfit to perform while under the influence of marijuana – a substance used during prayer – Ragaval said he felt his suspension was unfair.
“I am a Rastafarian. I make use of marijuana not for the high or the kick, but because it is part of our rituals and everyday practices.
“I do not believe I am unfit to carry out my abilities at work, and they [Welfit Oddy] are now saying being under the influence makes me a hazard at work,” he told Weekend Post, donned in Rastafarian attire with his dreadlocks wrapped up in a hat.
But he said his employer claimed the drug testing for those who perform “critical work” like that of Ragaval’s position as a forklift driver was standard and in line with the company’s policies.
Ragaval, who has a twoyear-old daughter and is the sole provider at home, was issued with a nine-month written warning with the possibility of random drug tests to ensure he is “clean and fit” to work.
“At no stage will I be clean because at our company we, as Rastafarians, have to disclose if a holy day or celebration is coming up so that we can be given time off [28 days] for the marijuana to leave our bodies,” he said.
Rastafarian community elder Jerome Brown, 55, of Tiryville in Uitenhage, said their practices were often misunderstood.
“We are faith-based people, we use marijuana as a protective measure when we pray.
“We are herbalists and vegetarians, we are calm people and we believe there is a oneness in [all of] us, we are not separate.
“There have been no incidents at work with smoking or anything and what is frustrating is that our way of life is being scrutinised,” Brown said.
Ragaval first had the drug test done on June 20 with a positive result and had to undergo another saliva test the next day, which he refused.
He was then called into a hearing earlier this month and is currently awaiting the outcome.
His colleague and fellow Rastafarian believer, Rostin Snyman, 35, represented him at the hearing and is now also facing scrutiny by having to undergo a drug test.
Snyman, who is a laser operator, said he had disclosed his religious beliefs in his interview eight years ago.
“It is like we have to prove ourselves now that we are capable of performing at work. I have never had to do a drug test while working here because what I do is not considered critical work,” Snyman said.
“We got a victory in the high court with the ruling made where we are allowed to consume and enjoy marijuana in our private homes, but now we are being embarrassed by our employers with drug tests and hearings and suspensions.
“I am concerned because this affects me. I don’t want to be at home and not working because of my beliefs.
“We are being victimised here,” Snyman said.
Welfit Oddy human resources executive Lee Dobell said the company required its employees to comply with all relevant laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the company’s internal policies and regulations.
“The company notes that one of its employees has approached your newspaper in relation to a matter that is currently being dealt with by the company in terms of its disciplinary processes,” Dobell said.
“This is a confidential matter and Welfit Oddy is not willing to comment thereon in a public forum.”

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