Seventeen chefs were fired for “gross insubordination” by the Wits caterers last week.

Royal Mnandi Food Service Solutions, who serve all the Wits dining halls, issued dismissal letters during the university break, after holding two hearings. Some of the dismissed workers have served the company for as long as ten years.

The union representing the cooks, Hospitality, Industrial, Commercial Rand Workers’ Union, did not manage to convince company management the workers were innocent.

The cooks refused to work at the dining halls they were assigned to because they claimed management made decisions without consulting them. They claimed larger dining halls involved more work and therefore warranted higher pay, particularly for the longer-serving workers

Management was not prepared to increase the pay of the cooks who were being transferred to the Main Dining Hall in the Matrix, and to the Johannesburg College of Education. The company won the tender to provide food in these venues late last year.

“We workers have children to feed, only to get fired after helping the company get the tender for the Main dining hall and JCE from Wits,” said shop steward Klaas Baard.

The workers also claim that, during their suspension, the company was already interviewing potential candidates to fill their positions.

The union met with Royal Mnandi management a week before the suspension, after the workers had complained of being moved without their consent.

One of the workers, Nana Mokgosi, said Royal Mnandi agreed to stop assigning workers to different dining halls without consultation. However, she claimed management then broke the agreement and, on March 7, served suspension letters to workers who refused to be transferred.

“When staff tried setting up a meeting with management, they kept postponing it. We were just fighting for what was right, nothing criminal.”

 Workers have approached the Law Clinic for legal advice and are still waiting for a response.

Wits Employee Relations Manager Elaine Milton said the department did not have any knowledge of workers being dismissed at Royal Mnandi. “We are not responsible in the management of outsourced workers. Our job is to negotiate tenders and evaluate the company’s policies and contracts only.”

However, she said her department had received reports of outsourced workers being “abused and discriminated against” by different companies. Two attorneys, Thandi Orleyn and Thembeka Ngwitabi were appointed in March to conduct a fact-finding investigation into the working conditions of outsourced workers.

Vuvuzela Royal Mnandi were not prepared to comment, when approached by Vuvuzela.


Published in Vuvuzela Print Edition, 13 April 2012