The Casualities of Cola – outsourcing and exploitation

 In Labor and Unions

Claire Ceruti interviews Thabo Zondo

I joined ABI in 1987. I worked for ten years without promotion, the reason being I was an activist in the township

In my early days, I changed many things. For example when the worker was visited by his wife, she was not allowed to enter the premises of ABI. She had to stand far away. I changed that. I said to management, these people are very important. You must let them come on to the premises to see their husbands.

Ten years I was merchandisersupervisor, but I used to win many things because of excellent customer services. Then I became a rep for eleven years. Then from 2009, I promise my customers: I want now to deliver the stock on your doorstep, so I’m venturing now to become the owner-driver.

But you have to resign first. That’s the trick. Then they give you this contract that is more than 70 pages, to sign, sign and initial, sign and initial, while the truck is idling outside. If you question, they say go, and where you were, there’s no more space for you. They don’t allow you to see it before because some clauses are actually one sided.

After I signed they moved me from Soweto to East Rand, far from. I didn’t know anybody at that depot, I didn’t know any customer of East Rand whatsoever. It took me the whole day to find that first customer. From 2009 until 2012, I was working very, very hard, under stress.

One day they said, you owe us R160,000.They said you delivered stock at Pickn Pay Norwood -but I don’t even know where that is. They say, sign agreement of debt. I got the invoice from the PnP head office, and it wasn’t me! Management used my vendor number to create an order and the company driver delivered. After seeing that invoice, they said okay, then business as usual. They didn’t even apologise. Somebody on management used my vendor number, which is a fraud, because you cannot do that without his or her authority. But after that I hear stories that the owner drivers are stealing!

With the truck, ABI are the ones who went to the dealership to negotiate,In my absence initially. They signed the contract on the truck [using our] house as a surety in my wife’s abstentia. When you buy a truck, you must qualify in terms of payment. If I want to buy a Ferrari, they look at my financial muscle and tell me, you qualify for a Toyota. But how do we qualify now for a big truck, R1.2 million? They negotiated,if these guys can’t pay we are gonna pay. And there are incentives for them – if you buy so many fleet you get better deal.

During the national truck drivers’ strike in 2010 they were compelling us to go and deliver. We said,hold on, the truck’s insurance stipulates clearly that during the strike, once you work, it’s your own business, anything can happen to your truck. And they said no, you must go and deliver in Germiston. I had only two days with a new truck. I was with a driver because they made me continue while my leg was injured. We arrived,the crew offload the stock, okay here comes a group of people, they start stoning the truck. The driver drove away leaving the stock there. They take everything.

I said to ABI, look what they did to my truck, please –I was rendering your service. They showed me a middle finger, just like that.

Before 1994, unions were powerful. FAWU used to challenge irregularities in the company. Wewon our cases if we went to court. The union achieved a lot of things. Remember because of union, you got company contribution and your contribution when you go on pension.

Seeing that the unions were so powerful, the owner-driver scheme was preplanned. Company drivers were working nine hours;more, they had to pay you overtime. When they introduced this scheme, they made a lot of profit at our expense. We used to work abnormal hours. I go and deliver for thirty customers; when I come back they give me another load and I’ve got no choice, I have to grow my business. But in terms of commission, they are the ones who decide how much they give me, while at the end of the year the company reports double digit profit.

During the 2012 truck driver’s strike, okay I learned from 2010. I was using a lease truck, because my truck had a problem. ABI said you’ll be working no-go areas. I said,I was once a victim, so now, as long as you can make it in black and white that if anything could happen to this truck you are liable. They didn’t want to give. So I didn’t go. My wife also tell them,‘His life was in danger, so now I don’t see reason he must work Saturday and Sunday on no-go areas. What about his safety?’

Monday they gave me a bridge letter, which says if you don’t take orders from your manager and if you do a similar mistake within six months they can terminate your contract. I said I cannot sign this.

That day, second load, they sent me alone to a dangerous area. Half past four I had to drive alone. They burned six trucks on that day, and people were phoning Khaya FM saying, but why some people are forcing to do deliveries? Then my wife phoned and said, not everyone is willing – some other companies have forced their employees to go and work. I give you an example, my husband – they gave him a bridge letter for not going on the weekend, now they have sent him late to go and deliver. Then someone [from ABI] hear that on radio.

On Tuesday they called me again. They said, Thabo, you are fired. I said, reason?! They said,you are fired but you’re going to be working ‘til the end of the contract. But they said fired! I said okay, give me a termination letter.

My wife tried to speak to them. They said, this man’s wife is full of nonsense. My wife was questioning the way they were treating me -she runs the administration in my business. They said, no, that one, she’s coming clever!

The next morning my truck was loaded as usual, then the security said management want to see you. I thought: again?!In the boardroom was the depot manager, a lady from head office, myself and my advisor. Depot manager had that A5 pad. I thought he was going to take my side of the story. Instead he said, ‘Thabo, you were on the media on Monday, you know company policy’. I say,‘Me? Give me a proof.’

And the lady from head office, she says ‘Security!… You’re fired’, just like that. And security just opened the door, which means they were waiting. They say go uncouple the trailer, take your truck, and bye-bye.

Some of my colleagues who were still at ABI were questioning ABI: as we are partners with you, you make double digit profit, but we’re getting zero, our rates are dropping every month, so how are we gonna survive, please come let’s talk. ABI just terminated their contracts.

When we went to CCMA, CCMA said you are independent, you’re not covered. Guys work abnormal hours. An owner driver passed on nine months ago. He never got paid for three months – lots of stress and he died. And you know what they did? They sent a MobiCan for his family – you know that truck in the shape of a coke can when there is an event? -– and three cases.

One guy needed dialysis for four hours, he went for only two hours because they keep on phoning him,‘ We’ll terminate your contract!’ He drives with a drip in his arm. The other was suffering from heart and kidney– they terminate his contract when he was in hospital. So we lost. They said 88% bums in the truck, so when are you going to get family time? No paid leave, no pension, no doctor, medical scheme, never, nothing. You are on your own.

And you know how many times we call media to say, please, take our story up. Only Daily Maverick – you can google it. Then the company brought an interdict on a Sunday morning to silence us. In South Africa, they said you must protest peacefully. But we have been protesting peacefully and then peacefully we have been burying owner drivers every time. Since 2012 we have buried more than 25. Peacefully protesting, families have lost their houses, children are no more going to school. I’ve got a daughter and a son who are in varsity, but I couldn’t pay the fees this year. When I picket peacefully, the police promise to arrest us.

How many extended families have been destroyed whilet his company made trillions at our expense? Maybe they got assurance from the state, come and invest in our country and you’ll be protected. That’s why Zuma is full of shit. He’s funded by ABI and SAB Miller.

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