TOBACCO GIANT’S WORK­ERS’ MEN­TAL SMOKE HEALTH GOES UP IN

Af­ter be­ing hi­jacked sev­eral times, trau­ma­tised em­ploy­ees are hav­ing to cope on their own, writes Steve Kret­z­mann

CityPress - - Front Page -

Re­peat­edly Bri­tish hi­jacked sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Amer­i­can Tobacco SA (BAT SA) say they are suf­fer­ing with se­vere anx­i­ety and cu­mu­la­tive trauma, but the tobacco giant is al­legedly flout­ing health and com­pen­sa­tion reg­u­la­tions. This has ap­par­ently left em­ploy­ees who’ve de­vel­oped post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) hav­ing to deal with crip­pling med­i­cal costs on their own.

“I’d scream so loudly in my sleep I’d wake my wife. I’d wake up scream­ing for help ... It still hap­pens,” said former sales rep Bradley Hen­dricks, who was hi­jacked 14 times dur­ing his al­most four years on the road de­liv­er­ing BAT SA prod­ucts to re­tail­ers in Cape Town.

“I’ve been di­ag­nosed with PTSD on three or four oc­ca­sions,” said Hen­dricks.

De­spite th­ese di­ag­noses, Hen­dricks – who said he re­signed from the com­pany last year when he faced a dis­ci­plinary in­quiry af­ter mak­ing a mis­take that he be­lieves can be at­trib­uted to PTSD – claims he was only ever given three days off.

There is also no record of com­pen­sa­tion claims lodged for him at the Com­pen­sa­tion Fund of­fice in Cape Town.

In ad­di­tion, none of the hi­jack­ings and armed rob­beries he was sub­jected to ap­pears to have been lodged as in­ci­dents with the com­pen­sa­tion com­mis­sioner. The Com­pen­sa­tion for Oc­cu­pa­tional In­juries and Dis­eases Act (Coida) com­pels a com­pany to do so within seven days.

LAT­EST FIG­URES

In 2015, then spokesper­son for BAT SA, Tabby Tsen­giwe, was quoted by Times LIVE as say­ing there were 1 412 hi­jack­ings of BAT SA de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles per year.

BAT SA de­clined to pro­vide the lat­est fig­ures, but City Press has records of 53 BAT SA-re­lated cases of hi­jack­ing, rob­bery or armed rob­bery ver­i­fied by SA Po­lice Ser­vice pro­vin­cial spokesper­son, Lieu­tenant Colonel An­dré Traut.

The cases, in­volv­ing nine sales reps, oc­curred in Cape Town be­tween Novem­ber 2012 and Septem­ber 2016.

Of the 53 cases, 38 are ac­com­pa­nied by the ID num­bers of the seven BAT SA em­ploy­ees listed as com­plainants.

City Press in­ter­viewed four of th­ese em­ploy­ees, three of whom con­firmed hav­ing been di­ag­nosed with PTSD.

The fourth, Aqeel Bing­ham, said he was never able to make it to psy­chol­o­gist’s ap­point­ments as th­ese were sched­uled for him in the late af­ter­noon, when he would get stuck in peak traf­fic. Con­se­quently, Bing­ham was never di­ag­nosed.

Of those 38 cases, only one – re­lated to an as­sault in­jury – was recorded with the pro­vin­cial Com­pen­sa­tion Fund of­fice.

BAT SA cor­po­rate af­fairs man­ager Mand­lakazi Sig­cawu said: “BAT SA al­ways en­deav­ours to re­port all cases where PTSD was di­ag­nosed, in line with the de­part­ment of labour’s re­quire­ments.” But the records do not bear this out. Sales rep Ge­orge Taylor, who pro­vided City Press with copies of his psy­chi­a­trist’s PTSD di­ag­noses, said man­age­ment was un­sym­pa­thetic and un­help­ful.

Another rep, who asked not to be named, said com­plain­ing about feel­ing anx­ious or trau­ma­tised saw peo­ple la­belled as “lazy and in­com­pe­tent”. “They make you feel as if [the hi­jack­ing] was your fault.” The reps said in or­der to re­ceive coun­selling, they needed to lodge a re­quest with their line man­ager, who would con­tact the In­de­pen­dent Coun­selling and Ad­vi­sory Ser­vices (Icas) con­tracted by BAT SA.

Icas would then or­gan­ise a psy­chol­o­gist’s ap­point­ment.

TRAUMA

The reps said it could take up to two weeks be­fore they got to see a psy­chol­o­gist and they were ex­pected to carry on work­ing their usual routes in the mean­time.

Both Taylor and his col­league said they had been booked off work for three months ow­ing to PTSD, with the col­league hav­ing been hos­pi­talised on two oc­ca­sions, once for a 21-day stretch.

Their salaries were paid in full dur­ing this pe­riod and their med­i­cal ex­penses are to be re­im­bursed by BAT SA.

That said, PTSD could take years to treat and could re­cur, said psy­chi­a­trist Imthiaz Hoosen.

Con­se­quently, for Hen­dricks, Bing­ham or any other rep who re­signs, the lack of a claim at the Com­pen­sa­tion Fund means they stand to pay for treat­ment out their own pocket, with no pos­si­bil­ity of re­im­burse­ment.

“The cost of treat­ment can es­ca­late quickly,” said Hoosen, as it in­volved a psy­chol­o­gist, psy­chi­a­trist and med­i­ca­tion.

Costs could “eas­ily” run into tens of thou­sands of rands, even over R100 000, de­pend­ing on the sever­ity of the con­di­tion.

Em­ploy­ees can re­port in­ci­dents to the Com­pen­sa­tion Com­mis­sion them­selves, but it has to be done within 12 months of the in­ci­dent. The BAT SA reps claim they had no knowl­edge they could do so.

De­spite BAT SA hav­ing pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the ex­tent of hi­jack­ings, the reps said in­ter­ac­tion with health and safety rep­re­sen­ta­tives was ei­ther nonex­is­tent or su­per­fi­cial, and train­ing on avoid­ing or deal­ing with hi­jack­ings was su­per­fi­cial.

Asked what BAT SA had done to in­crease safety for sales reps, Sig­cawu stated they were “con­stantly work­ing in con­junc­tion with law en­force­ment to mit­i­gate the risk of hi­jack­ing for our em­ploy­ees”.

How­ever, she said no de­tail on se­cu­rity mea­sures im­ple­mented to re­duce hi­jack­ings could be pro­vided be­cause mak­ing them pub­lic would “likely put our em­ploy­ees at fur­ther risk”.

Taylor said pro­vi­sions had been made for them to be es­corted by se­cu­rity guards, but they never knew whether they would have an es­cort or not.

Ad­di­tion­ally, two hi­jack­ings took place out­side a po­lice sta­tion while the rep was wait­ing for a se­cu­rity es­cort to ar­rive. One was out­side the Ma­nen­berg po­lice sta­tion while the other was in Kraai­fontein.

Hen­dricks, who said he was at one point hi­jacked 11 times in nine months, said he was never es­corted by se­cu­rity.

Taylor said they re­quested BAT SA to re­move iden­ti­fy­ing yel­low strips from their ve­hi­cles in 2013, but “it took them un­til Novem­ber last year to do that”.

FI­NAN­CIAL IM­PACT

Apart from the po­ten­tial fi­nan­cial im­pact the lack of re­port­ing to the Com­pen­sa­tion Fund may have on em­ploy­ees sub­jected to life-threat­en­ing trauma, it also means BAT SA is un­der­pay­ing their Com­pen­sa­tion Fund sub­mis­sions.

The fund acts as in­sur­ance, ex­empt­ing em­ploy­ers from be­ing sued for oc­cu­pa­tional in­juries or dis­eases, but em­ploy­ers are obliged to con­trib­ute sub­mis­sions cal­cu­lated on their salaries bill, the fre­quency of re­ported work­place in­ci­dents and in­her­ent dan­ger of the in­dus­try.

City Press could not es­tab­lish BAT SA’s li­a­bil­ity to the Com­pen­sa­tion Fund if all hi­jack­ings were re­ported, but, with a self-re­ported monthly salary bill of R98.4 mil­lion, the ad­di­tional pre­mi­ums could be sig­nif­i­cant.

Ashraf Ryk­lief, di­rec­tor of the In­dus­trial Health Re­source Group within the Univer­sity of Cape Town School of Pub­lic Health and Fam­ily Medicine, said un­der­re­port­ing to the com­pen­sa­tion fund also pushed the fi­nan­cial bur­den for oc­cu­pa­tional in­juries and dis­eases to the pub­lic health sec­tor or to the in­di­vid­ual worker and med­i­cal aid schemes.

Labour de­part­ment spokesper­son Te­boho The­jane said if em­ploy­ers were not re­port­ing ac­ci­dents and oc­cu­pa­tional in­juries, the in­spec­torate would investigate.

The­jane said there was pro­vi­sion for a fi­nan­cial penalty “based on the grav­ity of the dis­cre­tion”.

Ac­cord­ing to Sig­cawu, BAT SA re­ports hi­jack­ings that trig­ger a di­ag­no­sis of PTSD, as well as hi­jack­ings where phys­i­cal in­juries were sus­tained.

“BAT as­sists with ac­cess to sup­port for those em­ploy­ees ex­posed to trauma.

“So­cial sup­port is pro­vided im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing ex­po­sure to any trauma. Coun­selling and treat­ment com­mence 48 hours af­ter an in­ci­dent.

“We have a pro­fes­sional ser­vice provider in Icas that pro­vides trauma coun­selling. If treat­ment is re­quired, based on the rec­om­men­da­tions by trauma coun­sel­lors, em­ploy­ees are re­ferred to a psy­chi­a­trist se­cured by BAT SA’s oc­cu­pa­tional health prac­ti­tioner. This en­sures we have ac­cept­able and con­sis­tent stan­dards in deal­ing with this is­sue.

“BAT SA uses sev­eral proac­tive pro­tec­tion mea­sures of which our reps are not al­ways privy to, all for their safety and pro­tec­tion.

“The pro­tec­tion of our em­ploy­ees is im­por­tant to us. BAT SA’s pro­tec­tion mea­sures and de­ci­sions are based on well­cal­cu­lated and an­a­lysed se­cu­rity risks. BAT SA con­tin­u­ously re­views its se­cu­rity mea­sures or trade prac­tices.”

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