PAGAN HITS DEAD END
Shop manager fights for her rights
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.
Shuveny Bower-Louw is taking The Foschini Group to the CCMA for ‘constructive dismissal’.