ANC Daily News Briefing/Sapa, 27 June 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the ANC Daily News Briefing and/or Sapa for permission

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana has challenged the Chinese Association of SA (CASA) to distance itself from "acts of gross workplace rights violations." In a speech on Thursday evening, the minister responded to media reports quoting CASA as labelling his earlier comments on non-complying South African employers of Chinese descent as "incorrect and irrational". Addressing the 21st annual Labour Law Conference in Johannesburg, Mdladlana referred to what he called examples of unlawful acts. One of these acts occurred in Newcastle where a female employee was forced to give birth at her workplace because the company locked staff in the factory overnight. "What I said against the Chinese employers, I have said against farmers, contractors, retailers and so on. "Good employers do not allow their good image and reputation to be damaged by bad employers. We therefore expect CASA to do the same," Mdladlana said. Dismissing the "anti-Chinese" accusations levelled against him, he said that in all the incidents that he had cited as examples, the employers had been Chinese. "When the Newcastle employer was visited by inspectors following that incident, he ordered them not to communicate in English. Whether he was from China, Taiwan or wherever I don't know. All I know is that he is a Chinese," he said. Recapping comments that he made at a media briefing earlier this week, Mdladlana said the judge had taken a wise decision in declaring South African Chinese as previously disadvantaged. Reacting to reports that he has been reported to the Human Rights Commission for his comments on Chinese people, the Minister said his stance on workers' rights as being human rights was well documented. "I was the first one to invite the Commission's founding chairman, Professor Pityana to discuss the issue of workplace human rights erosion which even today is still sadly posing a serious challenge to our society." He told delegates at the conference that debates on legal compliance and competitive advantage remained out of context when ordinary people continued to die at the current rate at their workplaces in mining and construction. The Pretoria High Court last week ruled that Chinese South Africans should be included in the definition of "black people" in laws, including black economic empowerment legislation, designed to benefit previously disadvantaged groups. On Tuesday the minister remarked: "I hope that they [Chinese people] would ... make sure that they would implement and comply with the Labour Relations Act, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, much, much better now that they have decided to classify themselves as coloureds as in the past." He also told the media that 90 percent of the Chinese factories inspected by his department had been found "wanting". In the past, one factory owner from Botshabelo had moved his operation to Lesotho rather than comply with South African labour law, the minister said.