Worker killed at University of Pretoria

Brutality of outsourcing exposed

By Ferron Pedro, Tshwane WASP & UP Socialist Youth Movement

Mokhiti Johannes Moeti, a worker outsourced to Servest, was killed on Monday when he was pulled into a powerful chipper machine at University of Pretoria’s LC De Villiers campus. Mulisa Mabudafhasi, Moeti’s coworker, found his body, which had been butchered by the machine.

According to accounts from workers, Moeti and Mabudafhasi had been tasked to both operate the machine and gather branches to place into it, which meant that often only one of them was actually operating the machine at a time. Mabudafhasi explains that they had not received adequate training on how to use the machines with the training session lasting only one day. Describing the management’s attitude to training, he said, “It is not qualified, good training. It is a danger to us. You brought a new machine to bring to the workers. You give them only one day training on the machine –no practical, no anything. You just say, ‘We operate the machine like this’. You never show the operators how to start the machine. You never show the operators how to switch off the machine. But you want the operators to operate the machine… It’s not training. It’s only an explanation. ”

A member of General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) and participant in the #OutsourcingMustFall campaign Moeti had been redeployed from working at the golf course, after fighting with the “client” – the bosses at the University of Pretoria – and didn’t have any experience with the machine but was forced to do the job. When asked for his job title Mabudafhasi explains, “[We] don’t have any job description because they want us to do any job they want at anytime which is not right. I have not been able to read my contract. They forced me to sign it without reading it and I didn’t receive any copies.” Mabudafhasi says they were never shown what safety measures to take when using the machine. On the day of the incident, he explains that the supervisor switched on the machine and left the campus, leaving Moeti and Mabudafhasi to operate it. Mabudafhasi describes the stress and constant pressure placed on them by management: “My colleague was under pressure… The manager shouts at us every day. Their approach to me when they speak to me is not good. They treat people differently based on whether they are white or black. You are shouting at me. Who gives you the right to shout at me at work? You have the right to talk to me. You have the right to show me the work. If I’m doing something wrong, don’t shout at me, “You are a stupid!” How can you call a worker stupid?”

He had left Moeti and the machine to fetch a van but afraid of abuse from management, Moeti continued to place branches in the machine. Mabudafhasi explains, “We have a lot of work. They look at every step we take. They look at every mistake we do. The management victimizes us and so we are stressed. It becomes harder to focus on work. That’s the cause. That’s why this thing happened that way. If your manager puts you under pressure to do your job, you are not concentrating on the machine but on your manager.”  While on his own, Moeti continued to work, the branches hooked into his gloves and pulled him into the machine leading to his tragic death.

“There were supposed to be two people on each side of the machine but one of us needs to collect the branches. That machine is fast and powerful. Once it catches something then he goes out like mince meat. Mince meat. You will never see anything that shows that that was a person in the morning,“ laments Mabudafhasi. The impact on workers at the campus is plain. They have been traumatized by the unnecessary death of their comrade.  Mabudafhasi says, “To be honest, I am strong but this thing is killing me. I didn’t sleep yesterday. I’m here because I’m strong but I’m not feeling well at all… If I close my eyes I can see that thing happening.“

As a result of the #outsourcingmustfall campaign, workers like Moeti and Mabudafhasi have won salary increases of over 100% from R3,000 to R6,500 with an agreement to increase it further to R10,000 by the end of 2018. The militant activism of GIWUSA trade union organizers, Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) activists and outsourced workers have gained much ground at the University of Pretoria but, as this tragedy shows, there is much work to be done for the strengthening of worker representation and access to workplace rights at this campus and elsewhere. GIWUSA President and WASP leader Mametlwe Sebei explains, “The very fact that they deny these workers their right to union representation is criminal enough firstly because workers are unable to negotiate their health and safety rights and secondly, they cannot be represented during this inquiry owing to lack of trade union representation.”

Workers are demanding the immediate recognition of their union, GIWUSA, by university management including the necessary healthy and safety representation; the immediate suspension of supervisors at their work site as well as legal inquiry into criminal liability of management; an upgrade of the equipment to make it safer including the addition of a belt; certified training in the use of the machinery required to do their work as well as more staff to make sure operations are safe; an increase in salary including hazard pay for operating dangerous machinery; safety equipment including safety trousers, gloves with clips and safety boots for all workers.

GIWUSA organizer, Isaac Malema, says, ‘We are sad by the passing away of one of our own who was chopped by compost making machine. The police have opened a case of inquest and are investigating. The case number of the inquest is 142/11/2017 and the investigation officer is Sergeant Hlongwane of Brooklyn police station. The Department of Labour is also conducting its own investigation. It is almost a week since the incident but no one has been suspended pending the investigation. We met with the family. It was very traumatic and workers received group and individual counseling. May his soul rest in peace.”

The university management has yet to release public comment on the tragic death of a worker at their facility.

A Memorial Service will be held on Friday, 10 November at the University of Pretoria’s LC De Villiers Campus from 12:00 -14:00.