A family business in Kempton Park (South Africa) that manufactures luxury Belgian chocolate, has been scolded by the labour department because it employs too many black women and it was told to employ more black men.
Beyers Chocolates employs more than 400 people, three-quarters of whom are black women.
The company doesn’t only make only chocolate, it also packages and manufactures chocolate for airlines, hotels and large retail groups under different trademarks.
Many of the women work in the packaging department, where they do delicate work, such as wrapping chocolates and tying ribbons.
After a recent inspection by the labour department, the company was told it employed “too many” black women.
The department said the number should be reduced to reflect provincial demographics in Gauteng, where only 36.2% of residents are black women.
“If we don’t do it, the department is threatening to take us to the labour court,” said owner Kees Beyers last week.
The matter was brought to light for the first time by the DA’s interim leader, John Steenhuisen, after a visit to the factory.
Beyers, who was born in Belgium, started his chocolate business more than 30 years ago. He came to the country to visit his sister and decided to stay.
He said that although the department had not openly told him to get rid of some of his women employees, the implication was clear.
Some of the women have been employed by Beyers since it started.
“How are we supposed to do it differently? I refuse to dismiss any of my loyal employees.”
Lize Arnott, the company’s human resources manager, said Beyers Chocolates was required to submit documentation in 2018 to evaluate the company’s employment equity.
The department made scores of recommendations and, in November last year, arranged a conference to discuss the matter.
The company’s employment equity committee, comprising representatives from all levels, was present.
The department told the company that it had a problem with the overwhelmingly female workforce.
Arnott said he had invited the labour inspector, Thabo Masenya, to walk through the factory to get a better understanding of the nature of the work.
But, he said, Masenya became aggressive and “threatened us with the labour court. He said that we are seen as a non-transforming company, despite all the upliftment work that we do.”
Masenya was not happy that the company employed a black Zimbabwean engineer – a member of its senior management – when the representation of foreign citizens was meant to be 0%, according to provincial demographics.
The national spokesperson for the department, Teboho Thejane, did not respond to the alleged comment made by Masenya that “too many” black women were employed.
It should also put a training programme in place to address employment equity issues. He said it was problematic that the management consisted entirely of white people.
Arnott said Thejane’s claim that they did not have training programmes was simply not true.