Dismissed workers not happy with CCMA outcome

Some of the workers fired by Desai's Bakery in Saltville, Port Elizabeth. They were photographed outside the regional offices of the CCMA in Port Elizabeth where they were following up the progress of their case. Archive Photo by Joseph Chirume

The workers claim that the CCMA commissioner refused to accept their evidence.

The fifteen workers who were dismissed in January by Desai’s Bakery in Port Elizabeth have written a letter of complaint to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) accusing one of its commissioners of bias against them.

The workers are not amused after the commissioner allegedly refused to consider their evidence against Desai’s Bakery owner, Zaid Desai. The case was heard at the end of September after the workers approached the CCMA for arbitration against the dismissals.

Desai’s bakery, located in Saltville, dismissed 17 workers on 13 January after they asked for a pay rise and improved working conditions. The workers were armed with their old payslips that showed they earned between R13-R14 per hour while Zaid disputed this at the CCMA, saying he was paying them R20 per hour.

Two workers later returned to work after they dropped their cases against the employer. The rest of the workers are from Zimbabwe and Malawi while Shangule Ngcanga is the only South African citizen.

Some of the workers had worked for the bakery for nearly twenty years. They said they are angry that the CCMA agreed with Zaid to pay them each a R1,500 settlement.

They raised a litany of accusations against the commissioner who presided over the case. They said she did not accord them the opportunity to present their case in a free environment and that she favoured Zaid. What weakened their case was the absence of a union or a lawyer to represent the workers.

Ncganga, who is frail and weak from tuberculosis, said the decision had worsened his health.  “I had high expectations that we would win the case against Zaid given that we had ample and convincing evidence. The decision has taken a knock on my health. I contracted tuberculosis as a result of the poor working conditions at the bakery.

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“We have not been working since we were dismissed in January. What type of evidence did the commissioner want? Our children are starving and we are really desperate for food and money to pay our rents. Zaid has been telling his workers that he is untouchable and that he has money to pay corrupt officials to decide in his favour,” said Ngcanga.

Ngcanga worked for Desai’s Bakery for seventeen years. He said the R1,500 settlement is nothing but a mockery given the number of years he had worked for the company.

Fungai Chawasarira said he is angered by the commissioner after she refused to accept a cellphone voice note of Zaid which they recorded when he was ejecting them out of the bakery’s premises. “I was shocked when the commissioner accepted everything Zaid said. We presented our old payslips that we had kept for many years but she refused to take that as evidence. She even told us that we should accept the R1,500 offer Zaid was presenting.

“The commissioner allowed only three of us, yet he allowed more than that number for Zaid. Zaid and his security guard were armed with guns. The commissioner said we were earning R20 per hour despite that we told her and even showed her our payslips that we were earning R13 to R14 per hour,” Chawasarira said.

“We are dismayed by the commissioner’s behaviour. We have all the evidence with us but because we are poor and vulnerable we unfairly lost the case. All of us could not enter the building to corroborate our case because the security guard chased us out.”

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Chawasarira said they will write a letter of complaint to the CCMA headquarters complaining about the commissioner. The workers intend taking their case further to the Labour Court.

Malik Austen worked for the bakery for seven years earning R13 per hour. He said he contributed immensely to the growth of the bakery: “We made Zaid to be what he is now. It is because of our sweat that he now owns a fleet of trucks and has a state of the art bakery. For all those years he was treating us badly and calling us monkeys. I am angry that the commissioner refused to take the payslips and the voice recorder as evidence.”

CCMA Director, Cameron Morajane, urged the former workers to lodge a formal complaint with the organisation. He told Elitsha, “Please be advised that in terms of section 145 of the Labour Relations Act, a party may apply to the Labour Court on the basis of an alleged defect with a commissioner’s ruling or award within six weeks of the award being served.

” A party is also within their rights to lodge a formal complaint against a commissioner or staff members by sending an email to the following email address complaints@ccma.org.za.”

Zaid Desai said, “ Everything was settled at the CCMA. Go and get the correct facts from the CCMA.”

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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.