Heineken workers are preparing to march against sexual abuse at the beer giant’s Sedibeng brewery.
The Heineken Workers Forum announced this week that it will be marching against an alleged “sex for shifts” system playing out at the brewery.
“Women experience extreme violence because of these unequal power relations,” the statement reads. “Supervisors expect women to give sex for being scheduled in good shifts, get a better job or even just keep the job.”
According to the statement, supervisors and managers at the brewery also use their power to demand money from both men and women for jobs.
Workers are expected to march on April 23.
“The Heineken Workers Forum has been trying to talk to Heineken about the problems of workers, but the company doesn’t listen. Instead, workers are intimidated, victimised and dismissed for speaking out,” the statement reads.
Millicent Maroga, Heineken’s corporate affairs director, has denied allegations that the company has turned a blind eye to sexual harassment claims.
According to Maroga, the allegations are not levelled directly at Heineken but at labour-broking company Imperial, which operates at the brewery.
“Both Heineken and Imperial have (independently of each other) put in place reporting channels (toll-free tip-off lines) where employees are encouraged to anonymously (if they choose to) report wrongdoing, including abuse of this nature,” Maroga told the Mail & Guardian.
“In addition to the tip-off line, Imperial has shared and workshopped their sexual harassment policy with their employees and provided various platforms to report misconduct.”
There have been no complaints received across the various platforms provided to Imperial workers, Maroga said.
In 2017, the M&G reported on the struggle of workers, many of whom were working at the brewery under various labour brokers, like Imperial, to be made permanent by Heineken.
At the time, Zodwa Velleman — Heineken South Africa’s legal and corporate relations director — insisted that Heineken does not employ labour-broking companies but “third-party service providers” who use labour brokers.
If labour codes are breached, it is the responsibility of the third-party service providers, Velleman said.
Maroga reiterated this in response to the M&G’s questions.
“Additionally, we have previously commissioned an independent audit to assess the business practices of our service provider as it relates to Heineken. At the time, sexual harassment grievances were not flagged as one of the issues the business should address,” Maroga said.
The M&G’s 2017 report revealed that labour-broker workers who worked for CJK Labour Services — a company that at the time was contracted to Imperial at Heineken — took home a maximum of R185 after a 12-hour workday.
According to payslips seen by the M&G, on some occasions workers made as little as R24 for a 12-hour shift.
In July last year, the Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling on labour broking which interpreted Section 198 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) to mean that workers employed through labour brokers, after a three-month period, become permanent employees of the companies they are contracted to.
These workers must also be treated “not less favourably” than the client company’s permanent workers. They should earn the same wages and get the same benefits.
In response to the ruling , the labour broking sector’s employers’ body — the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector (Capes) — disputed the “transfer of the employment relationship” after the stipulated three-month period.
According to Capes’ interpretation of the judgment, LRA rights and obligations transfer to the client company, but conditions of employment, specifically payroll services, remain the responsibility of the labour broker.
Following the ruling, Craig Kirchmann, an attorney for labour-broking company Assign Services, said that, for the labour-broking industry to thrive, labour brokers will have to ensure that they are experts at managing payrolls and the administration of workers.
Another means of survival would be the creation of firms that act as service providers, he added.
Despite the Constitutional Court’s judgment, and supposed efforts on the part of Heineken to review its contracts with service providers, the struggle against labour broking at Heineken has seemingly persisted.
In a statement announcing the march, the Heineken Workers Forum reiterated its call to be made permanent.
“In our view, the only solution to end such extreme abuse of power is to take power away from managers, especially those who work for labour broker companies,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, bottle sorters, production line checkers, cleaners and security typically work for labour brokers.
“We want to be employed directly by Heineken because Heineken is responsible for the current injustices and human rights abuses in the production process of their beers and ciders,” the statement adds.