Right of reply: Groot Constantia's response to 'Mail & Guardian' article

'We acknowledge that Groot Constantia as a community must work together towards addressing the issues at hand effectively and on a continuous basis within the means and capacity of the company.'

'We acknowledge that Groot Constantia as a community must work together towards addressing the issues at hand effectively and on a continuous basis within the means and capacity of the company.'

Groot Constantia has responded to the Mail & Guardian article Constantia leaves bitter aftertaste.

History of Ownership

Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine-producing farm, with an uninterrupted history of wine making that stretches back to 1685 – making Groot Constantia one of the oldest brands in the world.

The estate has a long and fascinating history.  It was founded 333 years ago by Simon van der Stel, Governor of the Cape and the grandson of Monica van Goa, who was a former slave woman of Indian descent.  Following his tenure, Olof Bergh and his wife Anna de Koningh became the owners of Groot Constantia, and after Olof Bergh died Anna took the helm on her own – the daughter of a free slave – and the first woman to own the estate.

Groot Constantia a Provincial Heritage Site

After Anna, Groot Constantia changed hands many times and was bought on the open market in the middle 1700’s by the Cloete family who, through 5 generations, were the most successful in growing Groot Constantia to an iconic brand, famous throughout the world.  In 1885 Groot Constantia was purchased by the South African government as an experimental farm and in 1993 the Groot Constantia Trust was created – a non-profit company (NPC) – which means that the farm does not belong to any private individual, but is being conserved and protected as a Provincial Heritage site for the South African nation – The Nation’s Estate.

Groot Constantia is now controlled by a board of directors, consisting of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.  In the last 20 years drastic improvements have been made to ensure that Groot Constantia puts every possible measure in place to redress the issue of South Africa being one of the most unequal societies in the world - a problem that is posing serious challenges to government, private enterprises and individuals alike.

The Groot Constantia board have pledged the estates commitment to treating all employees with respect at all times and upholding the human dignity of each and every employee, whilst at the same time doing everything within our means to adhere to and alleviate issues pertaining to things such as health and safety, risk, workmen’s compensation, and employee living conditions.

We acknowledge the huge unemployment problem in South Africa and are therefore refraining from implementing mechanisation and trying to make use of manual labour as much as possible.

Health and Safety Groot Constantia is committed to the highest Health and Safety standards and endeavours to comply in every aspect of the OHSAct, with risk assessments having been implemented.  For more than 15 years we have enlisted the services of a Health and Safety consultants, Incon Health, to advise management on all Health and Safety aspects.

All chemicals on Groot Constantia are stored as per the required standard and empty containers are secured by a container cage.  Empty containers are removed from the estate as per the required standard and the necessary certificates are issued for our audits.

All chemical handlers have received the necessary training and at the end of the training sessions certificates are formally handed out as proof of attendance.  All employees are required to sign for all Personal Protective Clothing to confirm that they were issued with the required protective gear.  Mechanisms are in place to ensure that workers wear the protective clothing to maximise their safety.

Groot Constantia do not spray pesticides in the vineyards.  We use fungi, herbicides and natural predators, such as ladybirds for pest control.  All herbicides and fungicides are certified by the Department of Agriculture and are considered safe to use in vineyards.

Water

The farm’s water supply source feeds all households on the estate.  All water supplied and consumed (drinking, cooking, washing cloths, cleaning) is from this central source – the entire Groot Constantia Community, including the CEO’s dwelling, makes use of this single source.  The water was tested and found fit for human consumption.

Grievances and Labour Matters

We are voluntary members of Wieta and IPW and regular audits are conducted by both.  Groot Constantia has a grievance policy and procedures in place, and refresher policy training is done annually at the beginning of each year.

Groot Constantia does not make use of temporary employment services, but are making use of sub-contractors that from time to time come and do specific tasks according to our seasonal needs.  There is no difference between these contractors and the security and garden services which we contract for specific services.

We wish to put it on record that Groot Constantia is not in conflict with any labour law stipulations.  We follow the Labour Relations Act in full compliance, assisted by a dedicated in-house Human Resource Department to ensure that we meet all legal obligations.

Freedom of Association

Our policy clearly states that we shall freely allow workers’ lawful rights to associate with others, form, and join (or refrain from joining) organisations of their choice, and bargain collectively, without interference, discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.  Groot Constantia upholds the freedom of association of its employees and the effective recognition of the right to bargain collectively.  Workers have their respective representatives that will negotiate for them during wage negotiations as the Labour Relations Act allows.  Groot Constantia is and always have been strictly against any form of intimidation and will not condone such behaviour.

No employee has ever been fired where a grievance has been aired and Groot Constantia is in Good Standing at the Department of Labour with no CCMA unfair dismissal cases pending.

Housing Contracts

Groot Constantia provides housing to qualifying staff – according to our operational needs. Both male and female community members currently hold housing contracts.These housing rights are clearly mentioned in their contracts and are protected by the ESTA Act which protects the interest and rights of both the occupier and owner. 

Procedures for evictions are governed by the ESTA Act and employees with legitimate housing rights will continue to enjoy the provision and protection of the Act.  We have no intention to undermine the rights of the workers protection under the Act.  However, we reserve the right to notify the occupier if they are in contravention of the Act.

Housing Maintenance

Groot Constantia has a system in place where all defects in a house must be reported for maintenance to the head of HR.  She has a triplicate maintenance book where a maintenance issue is uniquely numbered, dated and signed for.  One copy is the reference to HR to implement the required task and one copy goes to the employee as proof that the issue was reported.  Should an employee not report a problem in their house then it will not make its way onto the maintenance roster.

The maintenance of farm houses continues to take place in accordance with maintenance schedules.  Employees living on the estate also have a running housing committee, which meets once a month with management, whereby any defects or concerns can be reported.  Maintenance formed part of our 2017 wage negotiations and the above was accepted by all parties.

Employee Well-Being

Groot Constantia have a range of programmes and systems in place to nurture employee well-being.  These include long service and loyalty rewards, life skills and personal development programmes, early childhood development and after-school care – to name a few.

Long service awards are a part of rewarding staff for loyalty.  Other loyalty reward benefits include Christmas hampers, various opportunities for staff to socialize and relax, and a 14th cheque depending on profitability and management discretion.  In addition Groot Constantia funds an athletics club and other wellness activities for our employees.

Groot Constantia believes in creating a child care environment that supports children’s development and where babies and young children are cared for during the working day in a safe and nurturing environment.  The crèche care, day care and transport is made available free of charge to biological and adopted children of employees legitimately residing on the farm.  In order to support the crèche facility we have the Anna Foundation After-School Class programme that support primary and secondary learners, offering after-school tutoring at no cost to the employee.  Groot Constantia is fully responsible for the running cost of the crèche and after care facilities.  In addition Groot Constantia invested in the appointment of a qualified crèche teacher and Educare teacher assistant with the purpose of developing our children from a very early age onwards.

Below are further examples of measures in place designed to foster employee well-being:

  • To help combat crime and to ensure a safe and positive living environment we installed security cameras on the estate with the consent of the community members.
  • Free accommodation on the estate for employees with housing rights.
  • Free electricity and water for employees with housing rights.
  • Free WiFi to all houses of staff living on the estate.
  • Groot Constantia were instrumental in generating funds for the upgrading of the technology room at Constantia Primary as well as for painting parts of the school.  We are further contributing on an annual basis to the salary of one of the teachers at the school.
  • As part of our social development program we take our children out on regular educational day trips during the school holidays.
  • We currently provide transport to 29 of our children to five different schools (Steenberg, Grassdale, Thomas Wildschutt, Constantia & Simon van der Stel primary schools).  We also provide transport for sport and school activities and, in the event of illness, transport of immediate family members.  For this purpose Groot Constantia have invested in a 37-seater school bus to further enhance the dignity of our children.

We acknowledge that Groot Constantia as a community must work together towards addressing the issues at hand effectively and on a continuous basis within the means and capacity of the company.  From the above it is clear that it is always our intention to empower and equip our community to have a dignified and successful independent lifestyle.

For more information visit www.grootconstantia.co.za or contact (021) 794-5128‬.

Right of Reply: Groot Constantia

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