PA­GAN HITS DEAD END

Shop man­ager fights for her rights

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By KHANYI NDABENI

All Shu­veny Bower-Louw wanted was a day at home to cel­e­brate her pa­gan re­li­gion by cook­ing for her fam­ily, pets and dead loved ones.

In­stead, she claims, she was told that “Hal­loween is not a pub­lic hol­i­day” and was ridiculed by her man­ager, who al­legedly la­belled her a sa­tanist, a witch and a bone thrower.

Last month the Rand­burg mom re­signed from her job as store man­ager at @Home, say­ing she could no longer put up with the taunts about her re­li­gion.

This week Bower-Louw filed a com­plaint of re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion and con­struc­tive dis­missal against her for­mer em­ployer, The Fos­chini Group, with the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion.

But TFG has de­nied her al­le­ga­tions, say­ing she was charged with neg­li­gence re­lat­ing to poor stan­dards in her store in 2014 and had never been tar­geted for her re­li­gious be­liefs.

Bower-Louw, 44, told the Sun­day Times this week that dis­crim­i­na­tion against her on re­li­gious grounds had be­gun three years ago when she was placed on sus­pen­sion for two months for burn­ing in­cense in the store, “leav­ing the bath­room smelling bad” and walk­ing around the shop with can­dles and black feath­ers.

In pa­pers that her lawyers, Ma­man At­tor­neys, said would form part of her CCMA case, Bower-Louw claims the dis­crim­i­na­tion and ill treat­ment by the com­pany wors­ened last year when she ap­plied for re­li­gious leave for April 30 to cel­e­brate an event on the Pa­gan cal­en­dar mark­ing the end of the har­vest sea­son and the be­gin­ning of win­ter.

The Ir­ish­woman, who shares her mod­est home in Jo­han­nes­burg’s north­ern sub­urbs with her hus­band and 23 cats, five dogs, eight fish and more than 30 pi­geons, said she had wanted to use the day to “cel­e­brate and hon­our my an­ces­tors and every an­i­mal I once shared space with”.

She also wanted to teach her tod­dler daugh­ter about the ob­ser­vance, which in­cludes dis­play­ing pho­tos of dead loved ones and dish­ing up food for them.

The dead loved ones Bower-Louw was go­ing to wel­come to her home and pre­pare food for in­cluded her brother, grand­mother, a still­born child, her fa­ther and her dog.

How­ever, she was told that the com­pany’s pol­icy was that apart from Christ­mas and Easter, re­li­gious leave was only granted to Jews, Mus­lims and Hin­dus. If she wanted the day off, she would have to take it from her an­nual leave.

The com­pany would not budge, even in the face of an ap­peal from the South African Pa­gan Coun­cil.

Kathryn Sakalis, TFG’s head of mar­ket­ing and e-com­merce, said this week that the com­pany was not aware of the CCMA case.

“All TFG em­ploy­ees are en­ti­tled to two ‘well­be­ing leave’ days per year, which are pro­vided on top of an­nual leave, bonus leave and pub­lic hol­i­days. These days can be used for re­li­gious leave,” she said.

“TFG is com­mit­ted to our hu­man rights dec­la­ra­tion in which we state un­equiv­o­cally that we do not dis­crim­i­nate on any grounds, in­clud­ing re­li­gion. Our core val­ues state that we treat ev­ery­one with dig­nity and re­spect. We em­brace di­ver­sity and cre­ate equal op­por­tu­nity for all.”

Lud­wig Frahm-Arp, vice pres­i­dent of the South African So­ci­ety for Labour Law, said South African law did not recog­nise re­li­gious leave.

But if a com­pany had a pol­icy on it, it should not dis­crim­i­nate and should ap­ply the pol­icy to all re­li­gious groups.

Mja Principe, con­vener of the South African Pa­gan Coun­cil, said TFG’s fail­ure to ex­tend re­li­gious leave to pa­gans was prej­u­di­cial, and the re­li­gion was recog­nised and reg­is­tered with the Home Af­fairs Depart­ment.

Pic­ture: Sim­phiwe Nk­wali

Shu­veny Bower-Louw is tak­ing The Fos­chini Group to the CCMA for ‘con­struc­tive dis­missal’.

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