As South Africa marks Women’s Month, the plight of women and the abuse they suffer is highlighted.
Abuse in the workplace is one such area and many women don’t speak out. But a group of women in the Eastern Cape are speaking out.
They allege to have been sexually harassed by a senior manager on a pineapple farm in Bathurst.
The women allege the man demanded sex from them in order to keep their jobs.
The community here is mainly reliant on the jobs the farms provide. But the sex-for-jobs allegations have hit the community hard.
One farmworker says, “When you look for a job in the farm, the manager in charge of us workers will call you, but not to discuss work, he will call you so you can meet at his house. When you get there, he closes the door and then he starts to touch your private parts. At work, I didn’t feel comfortable because the manager always touched my private parts and he would lure me into quiet places and then touch me inappropriately. And because you as a worker, you are desperate and need the job, you end up doing what he wants you to do.”
A former worker on the farm details how female workers would be employed by the alleged perpetrator.
“Many people that are working on that farm got the jobs by sleeping with that man or they would start work and then he would want sex in return for the favour he did. If you refuse to sleep with him, he will start to ostracize you in the workplace. If you are sick, he would not allow you to stay out of work,” adds another former worker.”
The farm owner acted once the allegations surfaced. Farm owner, John Bradfield says, “18 months ago I heard rumours that this was happening, so I personally sat with every single staff member privately and interviewed them.
“As I’ve mentioned, four of them told me that they had been affected by sex for jobs and none of them actually complained but they said to me at the time it was a job for sex story. We then called in the manager and he got issued with a final written warning since then we have not heard a word and as far as we have been aware the staff is happy and things are running beautifully,” Bradfield explained.
A Labour Law Expert says often cases are not dealt with decisively and the perpetrator remains in his or her position.
Labour law expert, Francois Le Roux says, “If there is evidence to sustain the complaint that triggers a duty on the part of the employer to take corrective action very frequently and depending on the level of severity that may involve disciplinary action. If serious harassment has occurred, it is fairly common and almost a default position that a sanction of dismissal will be imposed.”
More women came forward once the SABC investigated the matter. A grievance box and SMS line were put in place for workers complaints.
The SABC also interviewed the alleged perpetrator. He says the women have a personal vendetta against him as they were dismissed under his authority for insubordination.
Alleged perpetrator says, “This is a lie, I want to get to the bottom of these allegations levelled against me and I also want to know what I have [done to] these women.”
Victimization in the workplace can include sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual advances, and requests for sexual favours. But the victims most often stay quiet out of fear.
Executive director Women’s organization, Dr. Lesley Ann Foster Masimanyane says, “Often fear is instilled in people and women in particular. So, they will be afraid to report if their livelihoods depend on it and if they need their monies to survive then it makes it very difficult for them to report such cases. I think that it’s important that people find a organisation to help them. Often there is an inquiry at the workplace which is very small and often the women became stigmatised instead of the perpetrator.”
The complainants say will seek legal recourse.