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Zelda Venter | 28 March 2023

Pretoria - Five workers turned to the Labour Court to complain about unfair discrimination after they had a peek at a white colleague’s payslip and saw that she earned more than them.

The workers, employed by Makro as merchandise controllers, said they saw the payslip after their colleague, who worked in the same division as them, by mistake left it on the printer.

They were bitterly unhappy. They felt that while she performed the same tasks as them, she earned more simply because she was white.

They took their complaints of discrimination to management and raised a grievance over salary disparities that were allegedly based on race. Management denied this. It held a meeting with the workers to discuss the alleged disparities and management subsequently adjusted the applicants' (and other employees) salaries.

It told the disgruntled workers that this was done in accordance with a fair process to ensure disparities are eradicated. It said the business had exhausted the process and for this reason the grievance is concluded.

Not satisfied, the workers turned to court. Their case was premised on the provisions of the Employment Equity Act that provides that a difference in terms and conditions of employment between employees of the same employer performing the same or substantially the same work amounts to unfair discrimination.

The case was simply that a white woman, employed by Makro as a merchandise controller since June 2011, earned more than them – black workers who did similar work.

In denying this, Makro said historically, the recruitment process included considering a candidate’s employment history and not the salary the candidate was earning at the time.

It said it aimed to make an offer to a candidate attractive by increasing the candidate’s existing salary up to a maximum of 15%. In 2018, it introduced salary bands for all positions within the organisation, including the merchandise controller position.

Management said it had subsequent to the introduction of salary bands adjusted the salaries of employees, including the applicant’s, to ensure remuneration was at least at the middle level of the respective salary band.

Acting Judge G Mthalane said it was not disputed by the applicants that their salaries had been adjusted, in the meantime, to ensure that remuneration was at least at the middle level of the respective salary band.

The judge added that it was common cause that there were some black employees who earned more than the white colleague in question.

The applicants argued that the reason for that was because some black employees had longer service.

“I find this irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that there are two black employees who earn more than the comparator (the white colleague).”

The judge concluded that the process followed by the retailer and not race was the reason for the disparity.

“Something more is required to prove discrimination. The unequal treatment must be based on attributes and characteristics attaching to a person before it can fall within the meaning of ‘discrimination’.”

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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