Monday, December 6, 2021

Dros’ staff get role in Tom Cruise movie

In a 2002 Tom Cruise movie called Minority Report that is set in 2054, a “precrime” police squad arrests people for crimes they haven’t actually committed but may commit in the future. These arrests are based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called precogs. The same sort of thing happens at Dros Restaurant and Wine Cellar under a quasi-judicial framework that generates economic benefit for the restaurant at the expense of employees. In terms of a long-standing pre-incident policy, butter-fingered or not, waitrons at Dros (a high-end Gaborone restaurant that currently operates in Molapo Crossing) are required to pay a fine of P5 per shift for drinking glasses that they may break. This is based on foreknowledge provided by restaurant management ÔÇô the “precogs” as it were.

The difference between the two cases is that Minority Report is just contemplative science-fiction (nobody was actually arrested) while the Dros situation is real ÔÇô waitrons are actually being penalised for an offence they may never commit. More baffling is the fact that the money is not reimbursed even when those waitrons don’t break glasses. So far as is known, some have actually left Dros’ employ without ever breaking glasses and they never got their money back.

Where it doesn’t levy this fine, Dros (an otherwise reputable South African restaurant chain) docks the pay of bartenders in cases of cash shortages. Paying an employee less for shortages might seem a straightforward affair but it is not. In terms of Section 79 of the Employment Act, except where express permission is given by the Commissioner of Labour and Social Security, “no employer shall make any deduction or make any agreement with an employee (whether or not the agreement is contained in the contract of employment) for any deduction from the wages to be paid by the employer or from any other payments which may be due to the employee or for any payment to the employer by the employee.” However, the law does permit deductions in respect of unauthorised absence from work, the actual cost of meals supplied by the employer at the request of the employee or in respect of services and amenities supplied by the employer with the authority of the Commissioner in order to recover any overpayment of wages. Deductions are also permissible in respect of any tax or rate imposed by law, as a contribution to any provident or pension fund or scheme established and maintained in accordance with regulations of the Act with the employee’s consent. Still, the Act makes the qualification that the deductions should not cause “undue hardship to the employee.” One former Dros bartender says that there was an instance when more than half her monthly pay was deducted to make up for cash shortages. As a result she couldn’t fully meet her financial obligations.

As other establishments, Dros’ staff wear branded T-shirts (plus aprons for waitrons) but the manner in which they do is legally problematic. The restaurant sells each article to staff for P150 with the money being illegally deducted from wages without the consent of the Commissioner of Labour as the law requires. While the law doesn’t provide specific guidance on the staff uniform issue, a 2008 labour inspection report is helpful in this regard. “… the Employment Act only mentions protective clothing and is silent on staff uniform thus it is for the employer and employee to agree on the conditions of the implementation. None of the two parties is forced to comply with the other’s request. But if there is no consensus then the employer in this instance will have to foot the bill of the uniform in the spirit of fairness as this is his requirement as a basis for corporate image,” reads a report of a labour inspection that was carried out at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. Some staff members at the school had complained about being required to wear all-black when there was no allowance for such clothing.

For some time now, the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has had businesses that relate to employees the way Dros does in its radar and the future could present a challenge that these businesses have never dealt with. In the not-too-distant, the Federation plans to roll out a strategy that it believes was the reason Cresta hotels caved in to demands for higher wages by employees in 2011. During a strike by the employees, then president of the Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLHAWU), Pelotshweu Baeng, warned that if Cresta management was not going to give workers a fair day’s pay, his union would instruct its members to boycott Cresta group hotels. When the Cresta management and its union locked horns again the following year, Baeng’s successor, Goretetse Kekgonegile, said that the union – which at the time boasted a membership of 12 000 – still maintained its consumer boycott position. Five years later, BLLHAWU is now one-fifth of a collective of public sector unions that form BOFEPUSU. With a membership of well over 100 000, the Federation constitutes the largest worker grouping in Botswana. Its Deputy Secretary General and BLLHAWU’s Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, says that Cresta gave in because “the strategy was to be implemented and then management of Cresta heeded the demands of workers. We believed that management feared the possibility of such a position being put in place as it was going to be catastrophic for them.”

What he reveals now is that BOFEPUSU plans to institutionalise the consumer boycott strategy as a way to get employers to treat workers fairly. 

“We are currently finishing our strategy paper on utilization of buying power by workers to control workers rights. The strategy entails giving a blue print to all industries as to how they should conduct themselves on workers’ issues. The strategy also involves naming and shaming businesses or entities that violate and undermine workers rights in an effort to urge workers and the public that, on the basis of the violation of worker rights, such entities do not deserve income from workers or the public. We are saying so because workers and trade unions have the capacity and capability to influence the conduct of business entities and ensure that entities that violate workers’ rights don’t survive as they are dangerous to humanity,” says Motshegwa, adding that all the pertinent issues will be finalised at BOFEPUSU’s retreat on October 3. 

Dros’ management declined to comment with the Managing Director, Jagath Nonnis, saying that there is no need for him to respond to questions submitted to him in writing. The questions were despatched to him on a Thursday, with clear indication that the deadline was just a day away. He baulked at the timeline, saying that he didn’t “like the deadline.” Considering that the writer had volunteered to enclose a hyperlink text to an online copy of the Employment Act that management could access, some of the deadline pressure would have been eased but Nonnis was given an extension nonetheless.

He asked for a face-to-face meeting on Monday afternoon which he used not to provide answers but to state that there was no need for him to answer the questions. He said that he was complying with the law and that “local authorities” visit the restaurant each year to ensure that. He also made it known that he had consulted a lawyer, that he considered the deadline he didn’t like to have been “a threat” and that he would take action if the story damaged the reputational value of his establishment.

In his company was the general manager, Alvin Naidoo, who, in buttressing the points Nonnis had made, indicated that Dros was an image-conscious brand and that both of them have been in Botswana long enough (30 years in Nonnis’ case and 10 years in his) to know all the rules. He added that Sunday Standard’s story would only be fair if all the shops in town were investigated. By that standard, a newspaper cannot publish a negative story about President Khama and leave all the other 53 African heads of state. Naidoo wanted to explain the glass policy off the record which wasn’t acceptable because the information wouldn’t go in the story.

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