A turn-of-the-century MTV promo starred a man so obsessed with the M in the music channel’s name that he wouldn’t give it up at the risk of losing not just his job but life and limb as well. The promo mirrors a local university’s depth of feeling about its corporate colour.
Some 10 years after putting down roots in Botswana and against a spirited campaign by a trade union it frequently spars with, the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) is still clinging tenaciously to its black. In the heady days following the university’s establishment, staff didn’t seem to care too much about wearing all-black attire. Along the way, the thrill of being an extension of a corporate brand wore off. When that happened, some staff members wanted to wear other colours to work but management would have none of it. Subsequently, these employees sought colour freedom through their trade union, the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU). A labour officer conducting an inspection in 2009 learnt of staff dissatisfaction about being required to wear black and in his report, noted that while the law was silent on this issue, standard practice was for employers who decreed a particular dress code for their employees to provide the requisite items of clothing. The report concluded that since Limkokwing didn’t provide employees with uniform, the latter were not obligated to wear black. Subsequent to that, a collective labour agreement signed between TAWU and Limkokwing expressly stated that staff members who choose not to wear black “shall not be victimized or intimidated.”
With TAWU aggressively monitoring the situation, some employees exercised their new-found freedom while on the other hand, Limkokwing encouraged others to wear black. Around this time the line about staff being required to wear black was taken out of the standard job offer letter. The two sides clashed over the dress code again in 2012, with TAWU alleging that its members who didn’t wear black were being initimidated and victimised. In response to Sunday Standard queries at the time, Limkokwing’s spokesperson, Mercy Thebe, denied the allegations. However, she emphatically asserted the university’s right to prescribe a corporate colour for employees.
“There is nothing to prevent an employer from including an express term in the contract of employment outlining the dress code that employees have to observe. Expectation is all staff members should put on corporate colour for identity and a sign of team spirit.Consistency in employee appearance can create a positive impression and contribute to projecting the corporate image. When one is employed they are an employee of LUCT first before they become a member of the union,” Thebe said.
From then on, Limkokwing has taken a hard-line position on the black issue, reinstating the line about the requirement to wear black in its job offer letters. In the copy of one that Sunday Standard has seen, the “dress code” part reads in part: “It is the policy of the University for staff members to wear black clothing.” The word “black” is the only one in the entire two-page letter that is written in bold capital letters.
In an ongoing retrenchment exercise, Limkokwing has retrenched 52 employees and some of them allege that they were targeted for not wearing black.