Sunday, May 28, 2023

Union asks Dept. of Labour to fire white manager

Having failed to convince the management of Halfway Toyota Ngami in Maun to fire a white manager implicated in theft of company property, the Botswana Transport and General Workers Union (BTGWU) has taken the matter to the Department of Labour and Social Security.

Race is an issue because the Union’s argument is that the dealership’s Group Technical Manager, Andre Gerrit de Waal, was spared punishment that is ordinarily meted out to black employees at the premier Maun car dealership solely on the basis of his skin colour.

In February this year, De Waal was hauled before an internal disciplinary process on theft charges – which the company’s policy describes as “unauthorised removal of company property.” The property in question was a Toyota Land Cruiser engine mount and deactuator set which a security guard found upon searching a company vehicle that De Waal was using. The search, which was routine, happened as he was knocking off in the late afternoon. The case was reported to the local police station. A consequent disciplinary panel found De Waal guilty and as a result, he was summarily dismissed.

Following an appeal, however, he was reinstated – something the Union finds anomalous. In his appeal statement, De Waal argued that “on the balance of probabilities … there was not enough substantive evidence” that he tried to steal from the equipment that was found in what he describes as a “demo vehicle”; that he was not allowed adequate time to prove his innocence; and that no facts were presented at the disciplinary hearing to substantiate charges levelled against him. He believes that the parts were “planted” in the vehicle in order to “discredit” him “for whatever reason.”

The facts that he presented for his defence were that entries on the job card of the demo vehicle were incomplete, making it “difficult to track the vehicle movements on the day”; that “wrong technician details” were provided, further making it difficult to determine who had access to the vehicle; that he never signed a job card used for handing over service vehicles; that on the day in question, the vehicle was driven by seven other employees who, like him, were never hauled over the coals; and that the “various scenarios” of how and by whom the used vehicle parts were placed in the vehicle” were never investigated.

Somewhere along the vehicle’s custody chain is what De Waal refers to as a service advisor – whom he accuses of being “part of the conspiracy” to get him fired. He points to “new evidence” to the effect that “the same service advisor has been dismissed for dishonesty, hence his testimony and evidence … in this matter is not credible.” De Waal also calls the honesty of the security guard who searched the vehicle into question. His argument is that the guard was “caught lying in the hearing twice.” He identifies two “lies” by the guard. The first is that he said that he didn’t see any parts in the demo vehicle when it left the dealership’s premises and upon its return.

“After cross-examination, he came clean by stating yes, he saw service parts box but never opened the box to confirm what was inside,” De Waal’s appeal statement reads.

The second lie was that the guard testified that he followed the security process of screening each car as it left the premises when CCTV video footage actually shows that he didn’t do so.

“Doesn’t this create reasonable doubt that the used parts have been [planted in the … demo vehicle while off premises?” De Waal poses in his defence.

The other piece of “new evidence” that he pointed to was that in what appears to have been a clandestine security audit following what he described as “the incident on the 31st January 2023”), another senior employee hid a seatbelt under his car seat “with the knowledge and approval of the Dealer Principal, David Matlhape, for a time span of 10 days to test the inconsistency of the security screening process.”

De Waal also raised procedural issues with regard to his disciplinary hearing. The first relates to a finding by the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing that some other employees before De Waal had been dismissed for the same offence. De Waal’s argument with regard to the latter is that “this was never under discussion or mentioned in the build-up to the outcome of this hearing.” The second relates to the chairperson questioning the validity of CCTV video footage, which “was never mentioned by the complainant in the hearing; therefore, it can only be adduced that the chairperson received additional information from the complainant outside the hearing.” The third relates to the HR representative allegedly “caucusing with the chairperson behind closed doors, off-record and assisting to formulate the outcome.”

The inflection point was when De Waal took a lie detector test which, as Sunday Standard learns, he passed. In his appeal statement, De Waal said that he was willing to take such test. He also proposed that the other seven employees who had also driven the demo vehicle as well as the security guard should also take the test.

BTGWU sees De Waal’s reinstatement as racism because in the past, black employees found guilty of the same offence have never been given a chance to be redeemed by a lie detector test. A related point the Union makes is that there was no need for him to take this test because the company had all the evidence it needed to prove his guilt.

“Mr. De Waal’s reinstatement is bordering on racism – his kind can contravene the Company’s Disciplinary Policy and Procedure with impunity, with absolutely no consequences. There is not any other reason one can arrive at why Mr. De Waal was reinstated after committing a dismissible offense,” reads a letter by BTGWU’s Executive Secretary, Tsenang Nfila.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case is who the complainant was (Riaan Grobler, the Group CEO) and the manner in which his position has evolved. On the formal disciplinary hearing form, Grobler alleged the following as the offence: “Unauthorised removal of the property of the company on January 31, 2023 while driving through security. Your car was searched by the security personnel and unauthorised spare parts which included a Land Cruiser diff actuator and engine mount were found in your car.”

During the appeal process, Grobler’s testimony was that “although it was viewed that [De Waal] needed to take responsibility for his actions as the items were found in his vehicle, they did not believe that he had engaged in misconduct and somewhat agreed” with the defence that he put up during the appeal.

Grobler also stated that “the trust relationship between the company and [De Waal] had not been broken and could be fixed.” In support of the latter assertion, the CEO told the appeal hearing that “there was no monetary loss and no reputational damages caused by [De Waal] and his alleged conduct.”

“It was at this point that the company stated that should any fault be found on [De Waal’s part], then corrective and progressive discipline should be applied and the termination of [his] employment was not an option,” reads the summary notes of the appeal findings.

The Union’s case is that employees found to have “removed” company property from the company premises have never been indulged to the extent De Waal was. Resultantly, it has gone to the local District Labour Office to reverse decision of the appeal hearing. The parties have appeared before a mediator and the matter is yet to be resolved.


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