Retail employees humiliated by boss’s daughter demand compensation

J.A. Floral Distributors of Fairview, Gqeberha, where four employees were made to strip to their underwear by a manager to see who had left stains of menstrual blood on the toilet seat. Archive Photo by Joseph Chirume

Women employed by a prominent flower retail business in Port Elizabeth who were humiliated in September by the boss’s daughter want the company to compensate […]

Women employed by a prominent flower retail business in Port Elizabeth who were humiliated in September by the boss’s daughter want the company to compensate them.

Nomvuzo Sompontsha, Nomatamsanqa Plaatjie, Nandiswa Vinqi and Nicolene Solomon are demanding an apology from Jorge de Freitas, owner of J.A. Floral Distributors. The four also want the company to reimburse them for medical costs they incurred.

On the morning of 4 September, Natasha de Freitas (29) daughter of Jorge, force marched the four women to a toilet where they stripped to their underpants to identify who was having her period and could have left blood stains in the bathroom.

The four women are currently at their homes recovering, battling with depression and post traumatic stress disorder. They are footing their own bills despite being out of employment for a month.

Nicolene Solomon started working for J.A. Floral in March 2018 and for reasons better known to the company, she has never taken her leave days. She looks after her mother and younger sister. She decried the absence of a labour union at the company, which employs 31 workers.

“I recall the experience of that day with anger. I felt very low and degraded. I felt ashamed and robbed of my dignity. I am so angry that I lost myself as a result of the incident and my happiness was taken away from me by Natasha de Freitas. As a result I was diagnosed with post traumatic disorder. I have consulted a psychologist four times paying R800 per session. I still have more sessions to attend. I am broke but I can’t do without counselling because I feel dehumanised by that horrendous ordeal.”

Solomon said J.A Floral recently contacted her with the intention of convening a grievance hearing. She said, “I refused because it was a way of trying to sweep their dirt under the carpet.” She wants the company to pay her medical expenses and some compensation for violating her dignity. “though no amount of money will reclaim my lost humanity.”

Nomatamsanqa Plaatjie accuses the De Freitas family of violating the country’s labour laws by underpaying their workers. She said she worked for the family since 2016 as a cleaner because she had no alternative job. She received R2,700 per month for the first six months, and after a transfer to another division, her salary was upped to R4,100.

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“Still the salary is not enough because I do a job that should be done by two people. I am responsible for three isles which is a double job. I have been appealing to the De Freitas for the past two years to raise my salary to R5,500 but my pleas have been falling on deaf ears,” Plaatjie said.

She has two grown children, a 28-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter who, she said, have been confronted by their friends about the ordeal.

“I always feel like crying if I think about what Natasha did to us. I am 45 years of age and she is very young but she does what she wants because she is the daughter of the owner of the company.”

She stated that the De Freitas family is not grateful, “It is disheartening that after working for them for so many years you’re called pigs. I think we tolerated them far too long… I think someone from the government should remind the family that they should not come from Portugal to treat us badly.”

De Freitas had created the expectation that employees would be signed on to a provident fund but nothing came of it. “They also pay us our salaries at a date they want even on the first day of the following month,” said an emotional Plaatjie.

She said she is spending a lot of money seeking treatment and the company has never checked on their welfare.

Nomvuzo Sompontsha said her life will never be the same again after the incident. She is a breadwinner of eleven dependants and joined J.A. Floral  last year as a cashier, earning a basic salary of R5,350.

She told Elitsha,“The owners and myself didn’t have a good relationship before the incident because they don’t respect their workers. We only greeted each other when I came across them. What they did to me was degrading and humiliating and to my family also. I grew up in an environment where we were told that your menstruation periods should not be made public and that one should keep themselves properly clean and sanitised.

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“Another thing that dehumanised me is that I am a mother, a wife, sister, daughter and a respected member of the community. This was disrespectful especially to my husband who paid dowry for me.”

Nomvuzo said though her family and her husband were supportive of her, they were furious and ashamed as this had caused them unnecessary pain. “We have been asked a lot of questions by community members but we just pretend as if nothing happened. I am concentrating on recovering from the ordeal first.” She has spent more than R8,000 consulting a general doctor, a psychologist and psychiatrist, she said.

Nandiswa Vinqi has worked for J.A. Floral for six years and looks after 12 dependants. “Working under the De Freitas is hell because they are racists. Imagine when we went to the new premises, were never told that we would work on public holidays but we were shocked to see it written on the walls,” she said.

She has had three sessions with a psychologist since the ordeal, spending more than R3,000.

“They don’t even care about our health and welfare because the Human Resources Department wants us to report for work. This shows how racist these people are. How can we go to work when we are under depression? I want to be compensated for the trauma and sexual assault they committed on me.”

 The company’s human resources manager, Zelda Collins, said she could not talk to the media because the case was being handled by the company’s lawyers and the lawyers representing the four women.

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About Joseph Chirume 45 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.