"I didn't know about my rights before the training," Tabitha says, "but since that day I know my rights”. For 14 years Tabitha has been working at a fruit packing house in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The company packs and distributes apples and pears for buyers from all over the world. Workers spend their shift standing along conveyor belts full of water that carry fruit, so they can sort the good from the bad. The packing house has a cool temperature to keep the fruit fresh, and it can get quite cold during the night shift.
Over the years, Tabitha progressed in the company from a sorter to a role in quality control. She has been a supervisor for six years now, but even in this position, Tabitha wasn’t fully aware about her rights as a worker. But after a day-long training in September 2013, run by ETI and delivered by our local partner WIETA, all that changed. The training helped Tabitha speak up about a manager who shouted at her rudely in front of the workers she supervises. As a result, the manager apologised and now Tabitha feels more respected in her position. "I didn't know about my rights before the training," Tabitha says, "but since that day I know my rights”.
Another issue raised at the training was the discrepancy between seasonal and permanent contracts. Many workers and supervisors were on seasonal contracts even though they worked about the same hours as those on permanent contracts. Tabitha and 88 co-workers learned that they could stand up for themselves and lobby for a change in status. "Now that I am on a permanent contract," says Tabitha, "I can pay for school fees, transport and better food for my three kids”.
Wages have also been an ongoing source of conflict between managers and workers. Through a workers’ committee, Tabitha says “we can talk about what we want. For example, we were fighting for wages and we received an 11% increase”. According to Tabitha, “Loads of problems have been solved through this committee”.
For all the progress at her workplace, Tabitha is less optimistic about being promoted to a higher position. The legacy of colonisation and immigration plays out clearly in the hierarchy at the company. Still, Tabitha enjoys being a supervisor and has seen many changes since learning about her rights as a worker in the training.
Since 2011, ETI and WIETA have been working together to deliver this training programme to farms in the Western Cape and beyond. The training aims to build local capacity to address issues around workplace discrimination and sexual harassment by bringing together workers, supervisors and managers to discuss these sensitive and challenging topics. Workers like Tabitha report that they better understand what discrimination is, company policies and grievance procedures, and that they feel more confident to speak out when their rights are denied.