Cell C has suspended 400 workers, but it’s not about race, says ICTU

Cell C has suspended 400 workers, but it’s not about race, says ICTU

Cell C connect Centre in Waterfall Estate.

A hashtag asking the cellular company to explain the suspensions is currently trending.

The hashtag #cellckwenzenjani (or Cell C what happened?) was trending in South Africa on Thursday morning, with a tweet on the matter by popular but controversial Twitter parody account Man’s Not Barry Roux (@AdvBarryRoux) – recently revealed by News24 to be Zambian blogger Csho “Shepard” Chilala – being widely circulated.

The tweet alleges that 400 workers were suspended by the cellular company “for fighting against racism in the company”.

However, while many on Twitter appear to be spreading the narrative that there is a racial dispute at Cell C, Moeketsi Lepheane of the Information Communication and Technology Union (ICTU), an affiliate of Saftu (South African Federation of Trade Unions) – the union involved in the labour dispute with Cell C that led to the suspensions – told The Citizen it was “not true” that the suspensions took place “for racial reasons”.

He said the union’s issues were detailed in a memorandum sent to Cell C that had “nothing to do with race”.

Lepheane said the matter, which dated back to 2018, had been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), providing The Citizen with the case number GAJB8665-19.

According to him, “shop stewards had submitted a memorandum of demand on the 10th April and Cell C accepted the memorandum and promised employees they would revert” but failed to do so. He added that the memorandum resulted from an agreement between the union and Cell C that the company failed to sign.

He said the ICTU was the only union operating at Cell C, representing by his account roughly 1,300 of the company’s workers. The company is believed to have over 2,500 permanent employees.

Lepheane alleged that part of the dispute arose as a result of “management taking shop stewards to meetings” and trying to “influence” these shop stewards and determine how they represented their members.

He said the issue escalated until the company responded with suspensions.

He added that meetings had taken place between the union, Cell C, and Blu Label – the majority shareholder of the company, was facilitated by Johannesburg Bar advocate Michael Van As, and that the parties “agreed in principal”.

But he added that his unions felt “Cell C has been acting strangely”.

READ MORE: Cell C CEO steps down

“In our view, they have uplifted the suspensions in a stuttered way. They phone you at home, then when at work they were given a final warning and then they went out again”, further alleging that management had forced workers to sign this agreement.

He also alleged that Whatsapp messages have been sent in an attempt to force workers to return to work and that “intimidation and harassment is high”.

He said he was commited to working with Cell C to “resolve these shenanigans”.

Cell C has confirmed the suspensions, saying the strikes were illegal.

“In mid-April, about 400 Cell C staff members were suspended for participating in illegal strike action where they were blocking other employees and customers from entering and leaving the premises,” a statement from the company reads.

“Cell C was successfully granted an interdict to open access and exits to the campus, among others.

“This followed two ultimatums that were issued on the day by management requesting staff to desist from illegally blocking the company’s entrances and exits and return to work.

“Striking employees failed to comply with both ultimatums, leaving Cell C with no choice but to suspend them pending a disciplinary hearing.”

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article quoted Moeketsi Lepheane as saying there are roughly 1,600 permanent employees at Cell C. Fact checking has revealed there are actually over 2,500. 

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