ATC101021: Report Oversight Visit to the Fishing Industry and Sheltered Employment Services in the Western Cape from 18-21 October 2010

Labour

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Labour on the Oversight Visit to the Fishing Industry and Sheltered Employment Services in the Western Cape from 18-21 October 2010

 

Introduction

 

The Portfolio Committee undertook an oversight trip to Saldanha Bay on the 18th to the 20th of October to consider working conditions within the fishing industry, especially as proposals to amend legislation regarding this sector are on conduit. The Committee visited five companies, where meetings were held between the workers and their unions and later with management. The rationale behind was to provide a platform for workers to freely raise concerns about their working conditions, without fear of being victimised. The Committee felt that management should equally be afforded a similar platform to respond to assertions that were raised during meetings with workers.  Companies visited included: West Point Processors, Oceana Brands, Marine Products, Oranje Vis and Sea Harvest. 

 

The Committee felt challenges during the visits due to off-season non-activity within these factories, as workers were not on premises at the time of the visit. As a result, factory owners together with FAWU leadership had to make added efforts in convening workers in order to meet with the committee. The second constraint was that, whereas the proposed legislation will seek to address conditions facing workers at sea, the committee only got an opportunity to speak with workers in the processing phase who are already covered by labour legislation. Regardless of these challenges, the meetings afforded the committee an understanding of the other side of the industry.  

 

The current Bargaining Council’s scope only applies to seaward activities.  On the landward side, the Industry and the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) are busy trying to agree on the terms for the formation of the council devoted purely to fish processing.  It has been unsuccessful until now.  Nevertheless, factory workers still benefit from long standing collective bargaining institutions.  Industry members negotiate with FAWU even in cases where the registered membership of that union falls below the legal threshold for compulsory bargaining.

 

The purpose of this paper is to consider issues that were raised during the committee’s interaction with various industry stakeholders. In order to objectively understand the industry and the conditions that workers operate under.

 

Delegation

 

The delegation of the committee consisted of Ms LE Yengeni, (ANC) (Chairperson and leader of the delegation); Ms AN Mnisi (ANC); Ms LS Makhubela-Mashele (ANC); Mr E Nyekemba (ANC); Mr I Ollis (DA) and Mr WM Madisha (COPE). Support staff: Ajabulile Mtiya (Committee Secretary); Nozuko Mnyovu (Committee Assistant); Sindisiwe Mkhize (Committee Researcher) and Shamielah Peer (Executive Secretary).

 

A. West Point Processors (18th October)

 

Present:

 

  • The Department of Labour Representatives
  • FAWU leadership
  • Factory Management
  • Portfolio Committee Members and support staff

 

At West Point Processors, the committee took a roundabout tour of the factory to assess occupational health and safety matters and the general setup of the factory. Due to the unavailability of fish at the time, the factory was partially deserted as seasonal workers were also laid-off during this period.

 

Issues Raised by West Point Workers

 

Issues ranged from occupational health and safety, employment equity, general conditions of work, Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), skills development, etc.

 

1. Seasonal Workers’ Plight

 

1.1.   The distinctive characteristic about the fishing industry is that the entire operation is dependent on an uncertain supply of “raw material”, that is fish. Owing to the nature of this industry and also due to quota limitations in the fishing sector, workers are contracted for one year but only have work for approximately six months of that year. This creates serious financial constraints in that they have no income, which forces them to take loans from employers.

1.2.   Due to the contractual obligation for one year, workers are unable to seek alternate employment to supplement for the temporal loss of income.

1.3.   Due to the existent quota system within the industry, there has been an increase in imports from the Asian countries such as Thailand, therefore affecting the labour demand, for an example Off-loading of fully processed fish only takes three hours, in turn affecting shift hours as they decreased from eight hours to three hours per day

 

2.         Employment Equity

 

2.1.   There were general concerns regarding the conscious efforts by management to sideline Africans from progressing to middle and top management positions within the company. Instead, there is a conspicuous preference of Coloured and White workers over the former.

2.2.   According to some workers, this obvious discriminatory practices also filtered into vast wage gaps that are also structured according to racial classification, disregarding skills and work experience

 

3.         Unemployment Insurance Benefits

 

3.1.   During the off-season period, workers do not have income nor unemployment benefits as the employer does not issue UI-19 forms in order for them to claim unemployment benefits.

3.2.   As a result, they are obliged to take loans from the employer, further indebting them and leaving them in an abject cycle of underemployment.

 

4.         Occupational Health and Safety

 

4.1.   Workers raised health and safety concerns relating to non-provision of safety gear such as helmets, overalls, gloves, etc.

4.2.   They referred to the accident that TOOK place few weeks earlier. On the day of arrival, the committee heard that the worker was still in hospital. Until the day before the committee’s visit, the workers had not received safety gear from the employer.

4.3.   There were persistent complaints about the unsafe conditions in the “jetty area”. On an earlier site visit, management informed the committee that no workers were in the “jetty” due to off-season shutdown. However, during the proceedings, the workers informed the committee that the jetty area had been cordoned off on the morning before the committee’s arrival due to obvious unsafe and hazardous conditions.

4.4.   A worker in the ice plant area complained of unbearable conditions in the plant as well as continued expectation to attend to faulty electrical issues though he is not a qualified electrician.

 

5.         Skills Development

 

5.1.   Workers raised concerns that management had confiscated their certificates, following completion of training programmes in order to prevent them from seeking alternative employment elsewhere.

 

Management Responses

 

1. Health and Safety

 

1.1   In response to health and safety issues, company management informed the committee that there is an established health and safety forum that attends to all related issues.

1.2   The company contracted consultants to deal with matters of health and safety.

1.3   Management denied allegations of not providing safety gear to workers.    

 

2. Skills Development          

 

2.1. Management disputed accusations that they had confiscated training certificates. However, their explanation was that, these were securely put away in order safeguard them but are available upon request by workers.

 

Recommendation from the Committee

 

The Committee recommended that the employer should respond in writing to all issues raised by workers, at least by the 22nd October 2010.

 

B. Oceana Brands – 19th October 

 

The committee first met with the workers, followed by the meeting with management to address all concerns raised by workers.

 

Present:

  • The Department of Labour Representatives
  • FAWU leadership
  • Factory Management
  • Portfolio Committee Members and support staff

 

 

1. Seasonal Workers’ Plight

 

1.1   Similar to issues raised by workers at West Point Processors, seasonal workers have persistent challenges regarding underemployment and poverty as a result of dwindling fish in the ocean. 

1.2   As a result, seasonal workers cannot afford sending their children to school.

1.3   Concerns were raised that, the company, instead of using the laid-off seasonal workers to perform other duties such as gardening, painting, it contracts external companies.

 

2. Employment Equity

 

2.1   Workers raised concerns that the company does not consider Africans for senior positions or other benefits within the company.

2.2   Of the 133 workers in the factory, 33 Africans are permanently employed.

2.3    Allegations of racism and nepotism were rife within the company. There were claims that jobs had already been earmarked long before candidates applied for the post.

2.4   All hard labour is assigned to African workers and supervisory positions are allocated to Coloured workers.

2.5   The language barrier persists, as there is no translator on site.

2.6   An advertisement was sent out for an Afrikaans/Xhosa translator and to date this post remains vacant which causes numerous challenges for workers who are not fluent in Afrikaans, for example, a worker was forced to attend a disciplinary hearing which was conducted without a Afrikaans/Xhosa translator

 

3. Conditions of Employment

 

3.1    Workers complained of long hours’ work, 12 hour shifts and work during public holidays.

3.2    Whilst there is a clinic on site, it is ill-equipped and there is no doctor.

3.3    Doctors certificates or reports are not considered by the employer if the worker is absent over weekends and monies are still deducted from wages.

3.4    Employees work  ten hours a day but are paid for eight hours.

3.5    Unfair grading system within the company. Whereas some employees have been promoted to supervisors, their salaries remain unchanged.

3.6    There were general concerns regarding funeral benefits and share schemes.

 

4. Occupational Health and Safety

 

4.1   Workers quoted scenarios where supervisors instructed workers to work in areas demarcated as health hazards.

4.2   Employer was accused of not taking responsibility when workers are injured on duty unless they lose their limbs.

4.3    When employees are injured on duty they have to re-enact what actually transpired.

 

5. Skills Development

 

5.1   Concerns were raised regarding discontinuity of the employees’ families’ bursary support scheme through the company’s corporate social investment arm, which supported children of staff members.

 

Management Response

 

1.1   With regard to the translator, employees mentioned that the post had been vacant for two years and this was due to difficulty in finding suitable Afrikaans/Xhosa translator.

1.2   Regarding the share scheme, in 2006 the Kula Share Trust was established and to date this has not been paid out. Kula owns 12.5% of Oceana Brands. Approximately three months ago participatory rights were given to shareholders.

1.3   Due to shortage of fish, the company has been compelled to import fish from Morocco.

1.4   On employment equity, management placed on record that this issue had never been raised before. There is a committee that deals with these issues and it has never been a concern for workers.

1.5   Skippers are contracted with Oceana Brands and crew is also contracted by the skipper. They agreed that the majority of their contracted skippers are white,  2 Coloureds and no Africans.

1.6   They admitted that for gardening, painting and work in the fish ice plant they recruit contractors that are BEE compliant. They got in contractors instead of workers because they felt it would affect the duties assigned to workers. In addition to that, the company has also outsourced the loading of containers because workers previously refused to undertake this task.

 

DAY 2: 19 OCTOBER 2010

 

A.      Marine Products

 

Issues raised by workers:

 

1.       Permanent-Seasonal Workers

 

1.1.    The general complaint emanating from workers was that they could not take any other work during the off-peak periods when they were not employed.

1.2.    Due to the nature of the industry the employers resolved to grant loans during the off season but this perk is not extended to persons on maternity leave.

 

2.       Employment Equity

 

2.1.    Whereas the Employment Equity policy is clear on workplace transformation, the company’s top management remains white including the workers on boats.

2.2.    Promotions are racially exclusive, with blacks not considered for promotions.

2.3.    Official work forms are issued in only English and Afrikaans, disadvantaging the Xhosa speakers and creating continued language barriers amongst the groups.

 

3.       Basic Conditions of Employment

 

3.1.  Workers are not given leave when requesting time off from work.

 

4.       Unemployment Insurance Fund

 

4.1.    The majority of employees complained of not getting UIF payments during the off season.

4.2.    Death and funeral cover differed and took long to pay out. Workers requested clarity on this from employers.

4.3.    In the event of death of a permanent worker, the post is not filled even if there is work. As a result, remaining workers have to carry over others’ workload without incentives.

4.4.    Concerns were raised regarding incompatible UIF payouts between permanent and seasonal workers.

4.5.    In order to qualify for UIF, workers have to be working for the company for four years. This exclude seasonal workers given that they have only spent 18 months being physically on duty yet they have been retained for for years.

 

5.       Occupational Health and Safety

 

5.1.    Workers, especially those in the fish mills unit, complained of not having any safety gear.

5.2.    Workers are forced to work long hours. Upon refusal, they are forced to sign warning letters.

5.3.    The employer is not consistent when applying transfer policy, with white workers easily transferred to other units if they contract illnesses. 

 

6.       Skills Development

 

6.1. Workers complained that it was only white workers who benefit from skills development programmes.

 

Management Response

 

Employer agreed to forward written responses on all issues raised by workers, by Wednesday, 27 October 2010.

 

Visit to Oranje Vis

                                     

Concerns raised by Workers

 

1.       Permanent-Seasonal Workers

 

1.1.    Workers complained of lengthened periods without income.

1.2.    Workers sign contracts without being given proper opportunity to read them.

1.3.    Concerns were raised that the company neglected seasonal workers and did not offer any form of support during the off-season.

1.4.    Old seasonal workers continually have to train new recruits, who in turn get promoted or get permanent positions whilst seasonal workers are not recognised.

 

2.       Employment Equity

 

The following issues were raised regarding employment equity:

2.1.    Adverts for drivers are placed with a prerequisite that they have to have 15 years experience. This essentially bars Black people from securing positions in this category as they would not have the required 15- year experience.

2.2.    Inconsistent payment system, with white workers paid monthly on a fixed-term basis whereas black workers are paid weekly.

2.3.    There is no visible effort to empower the previously disadvantaged groups. As such, upon resignations of white employees, black workers are not trained for those positions, but the company would rather hire another white person.

2.4.    Racist and disparaging references are used when talking to staff members.   

 

3.       Conditions of Employment

 

3.1.    The company deducts two days pay even if a doctor’s certificate for being absent for one day is submitted.

 

4.       Occupational Health and Safety

 

4.1.    There is no proper ventilation in the canning department with temperatures varying between very hot and cold.

 

5.       Skills Development

 

5.1.    The company does not recognize prior learning and insists on people presenting certificates.

5.2.    Bursaries are not granted to black workers who wish to study further whereas white workers are continually given opportunities and financial support.

5.3.    Workers requested assistance from employers with regard to their children’s schooling and nothing has been forthcoming to date.

 

Response by Management

 

Due to the critical nature of allegations by workers, specifically with regard to employment equity, demographics and racism, management agreed to respond in writing by Wednesday, 27 October 2010.

 

Visit to Sea Harvest – 20th October

 

Issues raised by workers

 

1.       Employment Equity

 

1.1.  Xhosa speakers are not catered for within the factory, as a result they feel marginalised and discriminated against.

1.2. Official forms and advertisements are all in Afrikaans and English. 

1.3. There is a general perception that line managers undermine staff and there is a lack of respect for African workers in particular.

1.4. There are wage disparities, with workers on the same levels remunerated differently. African workers are paid R24 and Coloured workers R38 per hour.

1.5. White contractors are appointed without any proper qualifications

 

2.       Conditions of Employment

 

2.1. One worker alleged that working at Sea Harvest was akin to working on a farm with the pay rate at R22 per hour

2.2.    Workshop engineers do not get necessary recognition; as they are still being paid at the rate of artisans.

2.3.    Production was cut in the added value department and this resulted in the employers cutting the employees’ hours from 45hrs to 35hrs without communication or consultation.

2.4.    One fleet engineer complained that they are called upon to attend to broken down machines and they are not remunerated for this. They are expected to stay overnight without S&T benefits.

2.5.    When injured, fisherman are offered or transferred to another post pending their disability.

2.6.    When matters of genuine concerns are raised, the workers are summoned to appear before management and then interrogated and victimized.

2.7.    Workers are meant to handle 12 tons of fish per day but generally manage 15 to 17 tons per day. Whereas this benefits the company, workers are not recognised for this. This equates to one and a half days work.

2.8.    Retirement benefits are inadequate

 

3.       Occupational Health and Safety

 

3.1.    Making appointments with the on-site nurse is cumbersome.

3.2.    Temporary workers are not allowed to visit the doctor on site.

3.3.    The working conditions on site are unbearable and workers health deteriorates on site.

3.4.    On-site safety boxes are empty. As a result, workers do not receive proper first aid attention when injured.  

3.5.    Safety representatives are not adequately trained to deal with injuries on site, as a result workers are not fully assisted regarding health and safety issues. An example of this was given by a female worker, when she injured herself and was bleeding profusely she had to attend to herself.

3.6.    When workers are booked off to do only light duties by a medical practitioner, management refuses to accept the doctor’s report and requests a second opinion instead. The request to move to light duty is denied as a result of this.

3.7.    The company only recognises medical certificates issued by doctors from the surrounding area.

3.8.    Workers complained that certain areas in the factory have temperatures reaching up to 54 degrees with no ventilation.

 

Response by Management

 

Due to the critical nature of allegations by workers, specifically with regard to employment equity, demographics and racism, management agreed to respond in writing by Wednesday, 27 October 2010.

 

 

Sheltered Employment Factories- 21st October

 

On the 21st October, the committee continued with its oversight, this time in the Department of Labour’s Sheltered Employment Factories. The factories are situated in the Epping area. Similar to the other previous factories, the committee met with both the workers and management separately.

 

A. SEF Factory -  

 

Issues raised by Workers

 

1. Conditions of Employment

 

1.1 Inaccessibility of the buildings to people with disabilities

1.2 Workers have to use public transport such as, metrorail that does not cater for people with disabilities

 

2. Occupational Health and Safety

 

2.1   Workers’ health needs are not considered when placing, even when there are doctor’s recommendations to remove employees. For example, workers with asthma are placed in wood sanding department

 

4.       Employment Equity

 

3.1   Exclusion of Xhosa speakers, as only Afrikaans and English are recognised languages in the factory

3.2   Need for Xhosa and sign language translators

 

Management Response

 

Management agreed to respond in writing to the all allegations raised by workers.

 

B. SEF Factory – Epping

 

Issues raised by Workers

 

1. Employment Equity

 

1.1.  Continued segregation and discrimination against Africans, for an example African worker uses a separate toilet from their white counterpart 

1.2.  counterparts in other provinces also experience similar treatment

1.3.  the factories are untransformed with demographics favouring the white workers

 

2.       Conditions of Employment 

 

2.1 Remuneration does not take into cognisance varied workloads that workers carry. Such that, workers are paid uniformly though they perform distinct duties

 

2.2. Management insist that workers produce medical certificates when on a day’s sick leave and still deduct a day’s wage

 

2.3 No benefits extended to family members in the event of death of a worker

 

Management Response

 

Management requested to respond in writing with regard to all issues raised by workers.

 

General Observations by the Committee

 

  1. Seasonal Work

 

  • The complex nature of the fishing industry has resulted in intricate employment relations. As a result, where the industry may have made great strides in relation to wages and other general conditions of employment, these gains are concealed by unintended consequences, for example, seasonal work.
  • The plight of seasonal workers is the permanent and key defining feature of the industry. However, more can be done by the industry in order to cushion these workers, especially during the off-season period when workers are in a prolonged unemployment state.
  • Increased imports of fully processed fish have exacerbated challenges faced by these workers.    

 

  1. Employment Equity

 

  • There are general misconceptions about employment equity and its purpose in building workplace relations. Whilst targets may have been achieved in some instances, organisational cultures within these factories have not evolved in order to accommodate diverse employee profiles. Hence, there are general perceptions of exclusion of some groups. Whether these perceptions are founded or not, their existence signal a lack of communication between management and workers.  
  • Whereas numerical targets have been met in some companies, but, in some cases, these have been used to sideline one group over the other, in particular Africans.
  • Considering the above, there’s general lack of communication between management and staff members, leaving individuals to speculate and sometimes reach unfounded conclusion on simple matters.
  • There is general lack of communication and simple management skills from junior management staff
  • Language is a central feature of human identity. As such, workplace policies should also recognise and ensure that all individuals are treated equally. Due to lack of recognition of this fact, Africans feel marginalised and discriminated against within the workplace. Language policy within all factories visited had considerably  hampered transformation

 

  1. Occupational Health and Safety

 

  • Overall health and safety measures have been partially implemented within these companies
  • Whereas there are health and safety committees or representatives, these do not follow through their delegated oversight duties.
  • There’s clear non-visibility of the Department of Labour where safety standards are concerned in these factories

 

 On Sheltered Employment Factories

 

  • There’s obvious lack of transformation within the factories
  • The factories have not been designed in a manner that caters for diverse disabilities

 

Conclusion

 

Some progress has been made with regard to improving conditions of service and employment equity. On paper, much progress has been made by these companies. However, these targets have not permeated in the organisation cultures of these factories. As a result, African workers perceive their workplaces as hostile towards them, be it through mockery of one’s culture, language exclusion, unwritten discriminatory wage practices, etc. Whatever progress has been made in the industry has been undermined by these glaring challenges.

 

Recommendations

 

In light of the issues that emanated during the oversight visit, the committee recommends that;

 

·         The Department of Labour should strengthen its Inspection and Enforcement Services in order to oversee enforcement compliance of occupation health and safety regulations within the fishing sector

·         The Department of Labour should ensure full compliance with regard to Employment Equity regulations

·          The Department should monitor implementation of the Sheltered Employment Factories’ turnaround strategy. Additionally, the department should ensure that the factories adhere to employment equity regulations, as stipulated in the relevant Act

·         The Department should investigate the amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Act to cater for seasonal workers both in the fishing and farming sectors

·         The Department should respond to all issues raised in this report during the first quarter of 2011

 

Report to be considered

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