Racism, Exploitation Accusations Levelled At Durban Market Agents

Transgression, racism and exploitation are the given reasons for an uproar at the Durban Fresh Produce Market. Workers under Delta Market Agents embarked on a picket on Sunday evening calling on the management to address their grievances. Among the issues they are protesting against is “rife” racism which they say has seen some of the workers falling victims of assault.

“The list of our grievances is endless. We are overworked and underpaid without any provident fund; and yet expected to perform our duties accordingly,” says Champion Tshabalala, who is a shop steward.

Tshabalala said the working conditions they are made to work under are dire but no one is paying attention.

“We have been working under very bad conditions for years here and when we complain no one takes notice of our complaints. We are expected to work in cold rooms where they keep the stock but we aren’t being provided with warm jackets. This is no way for human beings to work,” he said.

Tshabalala also bemoaned ill treatment of black workers and racism. He said workers are being called names and sometimes it goes as far as being assaulted.

Kwazi Cele has only been with the agency for a year, says he has fallen victim of assault by one of the managers.

“I once found myself in a situation where I was insulted and assaulted by one of the managers. My sin was to attend to a customer before doing the job I was instructed to do. I went to the management office to lay a complaint but I ended up being served with a warning.”

“The management turned a blind eye to it and even if I wanted to open a case with the police I couldn’t because I’d need witnesses and the people in this place are afraid to speak out to avoid losing their jobs,” Cele said.

The workers have blamed the municipality for being too lenient to the management and being ignorant to the dire situation they are faced with.

Thobias Ngcobo who has been with the agent for over 20 years said the exploitation of the workers has been ongoing for years now.

“I started working here in 1997 but my job description to this day says I’m a general worker who gets paid the same money as people who might have been here for a couple of years. We are being exploited and no one is doing anything about it.

Even the municipality is not doing anything about our situation. We’ve been to their offices on site to raise our complaints but they always side with the company. It’s really said because we are working to provide for our families,” Ngcobo said.

Nico Magwaza of the Market Users Committee said the issues being raised by these workers are nothing new.

“These are the same issues that have been there for years and we’ve raised them over countless times but they still exist. People are working under unpleasant conditions and they are being underpaid that’s why they are out here picketing today. This is the only language these people (management) understand, even the municipality is aware of these issues but they are not doing anything about it,” he said.

The workers said they were also being forced to join an internal union that would fight for their rights instead of choosing their own.

“We decided to join a union that will help us with resolving our issues and now the problem is that the agent wants us to join a union chosen by them, we don’t want that. We want to be part of a union that’s chosen by us,” Tshabalala said.

Delta Market Agents declined to provide a comment when approached by The Daily Vox.

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