Truck com­pany in racial wage war

A West­ern Cape truck­ing out­fit is al­legedly rig­ging salaries against some race groups

Mail & Guardian - - News - Athandiwe Saba

Atruck­ing com­pany has been ac­cused by African driv­ers of pay­ing them a lower wage rate than their white and coloured coun­ter­parts. They said VDM Group paid African work­ers a kilo­me­tre rate whereas white and coloured em­ploy­ees are paid an hourly rate.

Two weeks ago, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the African driv­ers wrote to VDM, a road trans­port lo­gis­tics com­pany based in Sal­danha in the West­ern Cape, de­mand­ing that the com­pany re­cal­cu­late the pay­ment of all em­ploy­ees.

“We de­mand within seven days hereof, a re­cal­cu­la­tion and pay­ment of all your em­ploy­ees on the same scale with the same ben­e­fits, fail­ing which we will ap­proach the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, the Equal­ity Court as well as the labour depart­ment,” reads the let­ter.

VDM’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Deon van der Merwe, con­firmed re­ceipt of the let­ter but cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. “All our truck driv­ers are reg­is­tered with the Na­tional Bar­gain­ing Coun­cil for the Road Freight and Lo­gis­tics In­dus­try. Our labour prac­tices com­ply with their rules and reg­u­la­tions as well as ap­pli­ca­ble law. We are en­gag­ing with the at­tor­ney to clar­ify these al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against VDM,” he said.

Fik­ile Mchunu, the spokesper­son for the bar­gain­ing coun­cil, said an in­spec­tion at VDM had found that its em­ploy­ees are paid min­i­mum pre­scribed wages.

“How­ever, coun­cil fur­ther es­tab­lished through its in­ves­ti­ga­tion that the com­pany failed to ad­here to the pro­vi­sions of the in­cen­tive scheme re­lat­ing to over­time,” she said.

The mat­ter has been sched­uled for an ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ing in Novem­ber 2017.

At least four work­ers on dif­fer­ent salary scales con­firmed to the Mail & Guardian that the com­pany was pay­ing work­ers dif­fer­ently.

Fanie Moumakoe, a 64-year-old driver who has worked for the com­pany for more than a year, said he had worked at other com­pa­nies and peo­ple were never paid dif­fer­ently.

“Our con­tract shows that we must cover 14000km per month. That’s close to im­pos­si­ble. How can we be ex­pected to cover all that ground to en­sure we make a liv­ing wage at the end of the month?” he asked.

He added that many of his col­leagues had left since they were ap­pointed a year ago be­cause of the un­fair pay scales.

“I know they will tar­get me after this but I don’t care any more be­cause I am nearly at re­tire­ment age. But there are many young black work­ers there who still have many years to give. It is un­fair that they are paid dif­fer­ently,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Moumakoe, VDM pays most of its African truck driv­ers 36c a kilo­me­tre, in con­trast to their white and coloured coun­ter­parts, who are paid about R48 an hour.

Payslips of white and black em­ploy­ees seen by the M&G show this dis­par­ity.

How­ever, the coun­cil says it hasn’t seen dis­crim­i­na­tion based on eth­nic groups.

An­other truck driver, who did not want to be named, con­firmed that his salary was cal­cu­lated per hour. He did not un­der­stand why there was a dif­fer­ence with his African col­leagues but de­nied that it was based on the driv­ers’ race. He could not men­tion one em­ployee who was not African who was paid per kilo­me­tre.

“There are three dif­fer­ent payslips here. There is a group that is paid per kilo­me­tre and my group, which is paid per hour and over­time. I don’t know when things changed be­cause the group that was hired about a year ago were put on the per-kilo­me­tre scale, which is, of course, much less than ours,” said the truck driver.

The lawyer’s let­ter to the com­pany adds that the driv­ers are meant to be paid for work­ing on week­ends and public hol­i­days but are not.

“Their con­tract pro­vided that they should work Mon­day to Fri­day from 7am to 5pm whilst they work from 4am to 11pm Mon­day to Sun­day, which they are not paid over­time for, un­like their coloured and white co-em­ploy­ees.

“Your treat­ment of our clients is racist, un­der­mines a democ­racy we claim to live in, and be­longs in a by­gone era of apartheid and will not be tol­er­ated,” reads the let­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment of labour, driv­ers should not work for more than 45 hours a week with­out over­time, which should be paid.

An­other white em­ployee, who asked not to be named, said: “The ma­jor­ity of black driv­ers are paid less and the boss will not en­ter­tain this [dis­cus­sion about dis­crep­an­cies]. He is a tough nut to crack.”

Trucked up sit­u­a­tion: Sev­eral driv­ers from VDM Group claim that they are be­ing un­fairly re­mu­ner­ated. Photo: Del­wyn Verasamy

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