Victory for the oppressed workers in Flagstaff

by Vuyo Mapompo, Flagstaff  WASP

Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape, is where one particularly witnesses the most disgusting and worst oppression of workers. Mostly in shops. The town itself is filled with independently owned shops. Most of those employers exploit the labour of the workers and subject them to inhumane working conditions.

Workers earn as little as R10 per hour while working 9 hours per day, 7 days a week without a lunchbreak. That amounts to R630 per week, but at Rana Supermarket they were paid as little as R540 per week.  This is a shop that has been operating in this town for a number of years under the surveillance of the Department of Labour, who is supposed to inspect these shops regularly to ensure that the shops comply at least with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). One could ask: What were they saying or doing all these years? Why have workers been exploited to such an extent on their watch? These are the questions we should all ask ourselves in order to understand that the workers have no one but themselves to rely on. For so many years workers could not even rely on the Department of Labour to rescue them from the oppression of their employers.

GIWUSA appealed a number of times for the Department of Labour to examine the conditions of the workers in Flagstaff since as early as 2017. During our visits to their offices in Lusikisiki we were informed that the inspectors indeed went to inspect in the whole town, but nothing changed since then.

The fights between the employers and GIWUSA in Flagstaff did not start yesterday. It has been an ongoing battle with a number of challenges for the union. What is even more stressful, and further proof that workers have no one but themselves to rely on, is the fact that even CCMA does not even respond on cases filed by GIWUSA in Flagstaff. We have cases filed as early as March and April this year for which we have received absolutely no response. Who can these workers at least rely on if even CCMA ignores their cries?


A small victory for the Rana workers

At least now the Rana workers will no longer be paid R10 per hour as before. They will now get at least R16 per hour. Starting immediately,  the workers will be granted lunch, something they never got since they started working. The labour department had made a commitment to determine the exact amount the employer owes to the workers since they have been underpaid and the employer will have to pay back that money of the workers. The employer has agreed to sign a contract with the employees as permanent workers. The employer will register the workers for UIF and also provide the workers with payslips. The trade union and the employer are still in ongoing negotiations to improve the working conditions of the workers in the workplace.

Way forward

We encourage all workers of the town in Flagstaff to be organised, join a trade union, and to build a workers committee that will look at all workers issues in the town and organise a campaign against all employers who continue to exploit the workers while paying them close to nothing. The workers must take power to themselves and force employers to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Only a united force of the workers will force the Department of Labour, the CCMA, and even the municipality to do their jobs in ensuring the rights of the workers.

Workers of Flagstaff must unite for they have nothing to lose but their chains.

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