On Friday, the Embassy of China in Pretoria strongly refuted allegations of rampant abuse made by picketing members of the diplomatic staff’s Union for the Local Employees in Missions Accredited to South Africa’s (Ulemasa) in Pretoria
The embassy circulated a press statement, insisting that the allegations by Ulemasa are “groundless” and “totally fabricated”.
Ulemasa says the embassy unfairly dismissed an employee, Constance Maredi, who had worked without a contract for more than a decade. In response, the Chinese Embassy said Maredi had turned down various opportunities to sign the contract.
“In December 2018, the Chinese Embassy required all the local staff working temporarily before in the Embassy to sign labour contracts with the embassy. This is a measure taken in accordance with South African labour law and Chinese regulations to protect the legitimate rights and interests of local staff. The purpose is to establish a legal and formal employment relationship and it is completely legitimate and understandable,” the embassy statement said.
The embassy said after all other local embassy staff had signed contracts, Maredi was repeatedly informed and advised to sign hers.
“As a kind of encouragement, the embassy even agreed to increase her salary if she signed the labour contract but Ms Constance refused to sign the contract on a yearly basis for fear of being fired in the future and asked to continue working temporarily in the Economic and Commercial Office of the Embassy as before. After that, the Chinese Embassy has given Ms Constance more than nine months to further consider,” said the Chinese statement.
The embassy said in September, Maredi was informed that if she elected to decline to sign the contract, she would not be able to continue working at the diplomatic mission.
“Since the 1st of October, Ms Constance has chosen not to come to work in the embassy any more without giving the embassy any notice or getting any permission from the embassy. Ms Constance is not entitled to work in the embassy any more,” said the Chinese statement.
“The embassy is shocked to learn that, since the end of 2018, Ms Constance and her son has been spreading a lot of groundless lies, in the name of physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, installation of cameras in the changing rooms, employees no allowed to fall pregnant, victimization, inhumane treatment of women, on platforms such as media, trade unions, CCMA and DIRCO, which is totally fabricated and groundless lies.”
Officials at the Royal Thai Embassy declined to speak to journalists, interacting with the picketing workers through a locked gate.
Ulemasa general organiser Ayanda Molefe told African News Agency that staff at the China and Thailand embassies were being abused – including being assaulted – at work.
“Employees are being abused, they are being beaten and specifically at the Chinese Embassy. The workers there are being beaten using kitchen utensils. Employees are sworn at. We have a case of Constance Maredi who has been in the employ of the Chinese Embassy for more than 13 years but even today she does not have a contract,” said Molefe.
“She [Maredi] has now been dismissed for refusing to sign a contract which didn’t comply with the labour relations of South Africa. These embassies must comply with the laws of South Africa, and the Labour Relations Act. That is all we want. We want Dirco [Department of International Relations and Cooperation] to ensure that these embassies are compliant with laws of South Africa.”
Members of the South African Police Service closely monitored the picketers at both the Chinese and the Thai missions. Private security guards were also maintaining a heavy presence. At the Royal Thai Embassy, heavily armed guards from a private security company were inside the mission’s premises.
At the Chinese Embassy, the mission’s top officials went out and interacted with the picketing workers. The embassy’s top brass, however, refused to sign the workers’ memorandum, and the Ulemasa members subsequently refused to hand them a copy of the grievances.
The Ulemasa members vowed that they would continue with protests, and “shut down” the embassies.
Author: ANA Newswire