The Department of Employment and Labour’s Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) in Gauteng bust a Chinese factory involved in trafficking illegal immigrants and forced labour.
In a joint operation, the department, together with the SA Police Service (SAPS) and the Hawks, raided the premises of Beautiful City in Village Deep, Johannesburg.
Inspectors found minors, alleged to be around 15.
“The employer was allegedly violating a suite of labour legislation ranging from the National Minimum Wage, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act,” said the department.
In addition to labour law violations, the employer was found to be in defilement of South Africa’s immigration legislation, by-laws, health regulations and engaging in child labour.
Beautiful City employs 150 employees, with 149 of them illegal/undocumented foreigners.
“The employer is of Chinese origin and the company manufactures inner cotton of blankets using recycled clothing. Its operations were carried out behind closed high steel gates,” the department said.
Inspectors also found the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Act was not observed, with estimated underpayments of about R6.3 million for 10 months.
The blitz inspection followed an August tip-off, which alleged the Chinese employers were trafficking Malawians.
“Information obtained was the migrant workers were locked in a factory day and night. When the Malawian citizens wanted to buy [from the shops], they were expected to write down what they want for their bosses to buy it for them,” the department said.
Employees were found working under appalling conditions and were paid R65 per day.
“Employees are alleged to work seven days a week and any request to go on leave, they are informed to never come back. Employees lived on the premises in uninhabitable conditions. The employer failed to provide employees with information concerning remuneration and they do not have contracts,” the department said.
The employer, arrested during the operation, also allegedly effected unlawful deductions from employees’ wages.
All employees on the promises were taken to a place of safety as investigations continue.
The company was issued with a compliance notice for failing to pay the National Minimum Wage.
Department of Employment and Labour’s Gauteng Provincial Chief Inspector (PCI), Advocate Michael Msiza, said the team of inspectors on the operation expressed shock and disgust at what they described as “the grimmest site” they have ever come across.
He condemned the atrocities meted out by unscrupulous employers and warned the department would not tolerate modern day slavery.
“Such barbaric acts have no place in our democratic State that upholds and promotes freedom, equality and human dignity. There is no human dignity in locking in employees and violating their rights in employment, including a right to a minimum wage and to be covered regarding social security,” Msiza said.