Urgent Labour Court proceedings are under way between security company Phangela Group and security guards – some suspended and some fired – who protested in the CBD last week.
The guards, who are contracted by the Central City Improvement District (CCID), expressed their unhappiness in pickets on Thursday April 14 over their new terms of employment when Iliso, the company they used to work for, was taken over by the Phangela Group.
The pickets took place outside Grand Central mall near the Grand Parade, and on the corner of Long Street and Hans Strijdom Avenue, outside the CCID offices.
According to the Phangela Group spokesperson, Anthea Jansen Van Vuuren, the matter will be heard in court this Friday, April 22.
The guards, some of who were public safety officers (PSOs) and others drivers for the CCID, say things have changed considerably since the take over took place on March 1.
Some of the grievances include drivers being stripped from their positions and replaced with others, a demotion in their pay grade that was not discussed, and the suspension and dismissal of workers after they demanded answers.
The PSOs also said they were waiting for their March salaries.
The spat also allegedly resulted in a violent altercation and shootout with rubber bullets by the Phangela Group armed security and the PSOs, leaving seven of the CCID officers injured.
Speaking to the CapeTowner, PSO Masixole Qweni, who was dismissed following an alleged illegal protest, said when Phangela Group first took over from Iliso, representatives of the company came to speak to them and promised that their working conditions would remain the same after the take-over.
However, he said, briefly after the transfer of Iliso was complete, they noticed that drivers of the public safety vehicles who have been in their positions for years, were replaced with other drivers. The old drivers were also asked to train the new drivers.
He said the fact that the newer drivers were “white” hinted at racism. “This after they told us we were going to be permanent…we just have to comply.”
He said there was also a unexplained change in the pay grade, where they were put in a lower salary band without consultation.
He said after the Phangela Group took over, they had stationed armed guards at the entrances at the CCID security offices and a gate, which made the PSOs feel intimidated. “This never happened before. We did ask why, but no answers were given.
“Some of us were not even paid. There were arguments about paying us for leave days after Phangela took over, but this also never happened.”
Mr Qweni said on Friday March 11, after their shift, the PSOs went to hand in their uniforms and demanded answers from the management, but to no avail. He said the very next day, a few officers were suspended – and they wanted to know why, but were not informed.
Then, on Monday March 25, Mr Qweni said they reported for duty at Grand Central and after no one approached them with the work plan for the day, they started singing as peaceful protest action.
“The singing got louder, but there was no violence – we just sang. All of a sudden the armed guards started shooting rubber bullets at us. We all ran, but seven of us were shot, including women.”
PSO Ntonga Venfolo said he was shot in his left hand and in the back of his head. “We were standing there waiting to report for duty. There were already a few of us suspended so it was already tense. The management did not attend to us and just told us to wait and we started panicking so we started singing.”
He said they were unarmed. “The armed guards told us to move away and thereafter, they started beating and shooting – they got me in my head and hand.”
He said while he is physically healing, he was not mentally and emotionally okay. “I’m not happy at work. We didn’t get our salary for the month of March, and now we don’t have jobs. How must we feed our families?“
Sivuyile Geca, who was shot below the eye, said he no longer trusted the company he worked for. “We are now dismissed with no money and we need our jobs. We have children to see to.”
David Qelesile, who was a driver of a public safety vehicle, said he saw a lower pay grade on his payslip. “They also took me away from my position after they received new patrol vehicles. They pushed us aside. We don’t want to cry racism, but it seems like it is the case.”
To which driver Thuso Mohlomi said: “They told me if I should scratch the (new) car, I will be like the other baboons. The name ’baboon’ referred to my colleagues…It shows they don’t care.”
Mr Qweni said they have asked the CCID to support them, but accused the organisation of turning a blind eye.
CEO of the CCID, Tasso Evangelinos, said the CCID were aware that a group of security guards, employed by Phangela Group and contracted by them to the CCID, were concerned with their new terms or conditions of employment, and that they embarked on disruptive and illegal strike action to express their unhappiness.
He said as a result, they were suspended pending disciplinary hearings and have subsequently been dismissed. “This matter was brought before the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration), which is the correct forum for labour disputes.”
He said while the CCID is aware of the issues, this was an internal labour dispute between Phangela Group and its former employees stemming from a merger. “It is not unusual for workers to express unhappiness when a merger takes place and conditions of employment change.”
He said the CCID was not involved in the dispute.
“The matter was heard by the CCMA and has been addressed. We are in constant contact with Phangela Group and trust they will resolve this fairly and speedily.”
He added that the CCID does not and will not tolerate any form of racism.
Meanwhile, Mr Evangelinos said since the industrial action started, the CCID had put contingency plans in place, and their safety and security team are working with the Phangela Group, SAPS and City Law Enforcement to continue to provide adequate security services in town.
He said they have a full compliment of PSOs on duty, and have doubled the number of response vehicles to 12.
Ms Van Vuuren declined to comment, saying that once the matter has been heard by the court, and finalised, “we will factually respond to the allegation made and or give Phangela Group’s version of events”.