While local Coca-Cola bottlers are dealing with unhappy drivers, some staff members at a major supplier to the likes of ABI, SABMiller and Heineken are complaining of systematic racial discrimination.
Employees of Krones SA, which makes the machinery that fills Coke, Valpré and beer bottles across the country, have approached the multinational’s German headquarters with allegations of preferential treatment for white staff members.
In one incident, a white manager came to work sporting an old South African flag on his jacket, a number of employees said in an email seen by the Mail & Guardian – just as the country was caught up in the furore over Penny Sparrow’s controversial race statements.
“I was shocked when I saw this. It was inappropriate and the only reason he wore it was to show that black employees’ feelings are irrelevant,” said one of the employees, who chose to remain anonymous.
Krones consultant Lara Keromosemito said the man was not supposed to have been working that day and had only come in to conduct interviews. “I wasn’t there that day but, as far as I understand, he took the jacket off before conducting the interviews. But that is not an excuse,” she said.
The man was fired. But for employees, the incident was indicative of a bigger problem. According to anonymous emails, most managerial positions are occupied by white people.
Krones SA managing director Heiko Feuring agreed that the firm’s managerial level was predominantly white in nature.
“This is due to the fact that we are a very technically oriented company and at the supervisory level we have about four nonwhites, but team leaders can also be seen as supervisors and we have many of them.
“We have never made any decisions based on skin colour because we are a business and our mother company is pushing for business. The significant growth we have achieved shows that we have chosen the best people for the job,” he said.
Feuring added that he understood the need for developing previously disadvantaged groups, including offering internship opportunities.
“We have many examples of how we are developing employees. A previous cleaner who started with the company 22 years ago is now very successful in the service co-ordination department,” he said.
“We also had a driver who used to pick up our guests from the airport. We have developed him and he is now a supervisor in one of our warehouses, responsible for R45?million worth of spare parts.
“They are not on executive level yet, but we have to be fair and give it enough time. You cannot change the world in a day,” he said.
But such instances are not enough to mollify staff when a white employee is allegedly paid more than a black colleague doing the same job.
Last year, Krones hired two employees, one black and the other white. “The black employee has a BCom degree and has relevant work experience; his counterpart has a matric and no work experience in the finance field. They were hired to do the same job, but are not paid the same salary, with the white employee paid more than her counterpart,” said another employee.
Feuring said in this case the white employee had been better able to negotiate after both were offered the same salary. “Just because someone has a degree, it doesn’t mean that we will offer him or her more money,” he said.
Anonymous emails also alleged that employees’ family members are hired at the expense of qualified individuals.
“The recruitment of relatives of some white employees and the HR [human resources] leadership seems to be becoming the norm, even though the company’s recruitment policy is against this practice,” reads the email.
“For example, a qualified black intern in the service department was not awarded a permanent position and instead a relative of a white project manager was given preference for the same job, although the employee was new and did not have an equivalent qualification.”
Andreas Horn, head of global human resources at Krones, said the company is against racism or any other form of discrimination. He acknowledged the emails and said a full investigation is underway.
“As the accusations against HR employees at Krones SA are currently entirely anonymous, we are in the process of investigation. Therefore, we plan to conduct an extensive inquiry, which also includes a trip to South Africa.”