Strikers accuse Takealot of exploitation

Milnerton police look on as worker representatives and company representatives discuss the contents of a letter from management.

More than 200 workers have downed tools in an unprotected strike at Takealot’s Montague Gardens depot, demanding permanent jobs and accusing the company of ill-treatment and exploitation.

Frustrated employees resorted to the strike and protests after the e-commerce giant’s human-resources office ignored a list of grievances sent to them mid-week, said worker representative Ntsikelelo Rayi.

The strike started during a morning shift on Friday July 8 and continued on Monday July 11. Mr Rayi said they had opted not to strike on Saturday July 9. They don’t work on Sundays.

The strike comes against the backdrop of community activist Thembalethu Tyalithi posting on social media about workers’ conditions at the company. He is one of the strike leaders.

The workers, who are employed through a labour broker, demanded permanent jobs for workers with more than six-month long contracts; sound performance management outcomes; pay parity for all, regardless of race and gender; and career development and advancement for willing staff members.

“Eighty to ninety percent of us are appointed through labour brokers, even though some have been here for more than four years,” Mr Rayi said.

Tabletalk has seen Takealot general manager Siddick Hill’s Friday July 8 letter to workers, titled “Ultimatum: unprotected strike”, in which he said the no-work-no-pay principle would be strictly enforced.

The letter referred to a Thursday July 7 agreement that would have seen the workers set forth their grievances and allow the company some time to respond.

Though Mr Hill’s letter accused the workers of breaching the agreement by going on strike, he wrote that their grievances would still be considered.

On Monday July 11, Mr Rayi said the workers had received a copy of the agreement and a letter – which they claim threatened them with disciplinary action on their return – but they had not signed the papers as they put them “in a very tricky corner and at risk of being dismissed”.

Takealot spokesperson Karla Levick confirmed receiving a media query from us at the weekend, but she did not respond by time of publication.

A memorandum from the workers, listing their grievances, said “As workers we have come to a resolution that the status quo is suffocating. We cannot breathe.”

Giving an update on Monday July 11, another employee, who spoke anonymously, said their grievances had not been attended to and the strike continued.

Workers also complain of bullying by management and 12-hour shifts “forced” on temporary employees.

“As employees, we’re entitled to a break after every five hours of work, yet at Takealot, we’re forced to work as much as six hours without any break,” said the workers’ memorandum.

An employee claimed one manager constantly threatened them with warnings, making for a toxic “nightmare environment”.

“At times, his treatment has put some workers in tears; he’s a bully that walks around as if he owns the place,” the employee said.

Black workers at Takealot were “constantly overlooked” for opportunities and felt “marginalised and undervalued”, according to the memorandum.

The workers ditched the services of the recognised SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) and turned, instead, to the EFF’s labour desk.

“The union has been there for a while, but we’ve lost confidence in them. We’ve raised our issues with them over and over again, but they could not help us,” Mr Rayi said.

EFF metro labour desk head Ntsikelelo Tyandela visited the company on Monday July 11. He said: “We’re here to listen and be in solidarity with the workers who are, among other things, demanding basic employment treatment.”