JOHANNESBURG, South Africa –Outrage has erupted over claims of black employees being forced to eat in a converted toilet at an Ekurhuleni school.
The claims have also raised questions about the Gauteng Department of Education’s adherence to health and safety laws.
The Star has been sent pictures depicting the “inhumane” conditions to which maintenance and cleaning staff at Brackenhurst Primary School in Alberton are subjected.
The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has confirmed that an inquiry which could lead to disciplinary action against implicated officials was launched following the revelations.
Allegations are that the employees, up to nine of them, shared the prefabricated toilet as both their eating area and change room, supposedly because they were black workers.
A senior official at the school, who asked to remain anonymous, said among the school’s workers were five elderly women who had to endure the ignominy of lack of privacy when sharing changing quarters with four – among them young – men.
The school official asserted that the “inhumane” treatment was carried out because the employees were black; a white colleague of theirs had access to the administrative block.
“I am a (senior official at the school) and they have been hiding this inhumane treatment of black people from me. There are nine employees, five of whom are women, who are forced to eat and change in toilets.
“The white man is the workers’ manager. But the manager has an office in the administration block and has access to laptops.”
The workers have allegedly been using the prefabricated toilet for several years, and under the prescripts of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, this amounts to a health hazard.
According to section 8 of the act: “The employer is obligated to provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and without risk to the health of their employees.”
Steve Mabona, spokesperson for the GDE, conceded that the provincial department was aware of the case and that action was imminent.
“This is to confirm that we are aware of the unfortunate and disturbing allegations. We have since identified and allocated a suitable room to be utilised by the employees,” Mabona said.
“The department has instituted an inquiry, which will lead to necessary disciplinary action against the implicated officials.
“We implore our schools to familiarise themselves with the OHS provisions and adhere to fair labour practices at all times.”