In addition to working in deplorable conditions, their living conditions on the premises were also deemed “uninhabitable”. Image for illustration only: iStock
The employer was paying foreign nationals, including children, R6.50 an hour, and forcing them to work and live in deplorable conditions.
A joint operation by SAPS, the department of employment and labour’s Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES), and the Hawks acting on a tip-off of human trafficking led authorities to a Chinese factory that has been accused of trafficking illegal immigrants.
In a statement released on Thursday, the IES said the immigrants were being subjected to forced labour at the premises of a company called Beautiful City, located at Village Deep in Johannesburg.
Minors were discovered by IES inspectors, and the employer, of Chinese origin, was found to have violated various labour and immigration legislations, bylaws, health regulations, and child labour laws.
One-hundred-and-fifty employees were working for Beautiful City, 149 of which were illegal or undocumented foreigners. The company manufactures the inner cotton lining used in blankets, with operations executed behind closed “high steel gates”, the department said.
The tip-off was made in August by an undisclosed source, who alleged that the employers were trafficking Malawian citizens. The source further alleged that migrant workers were permanently locked in a factory, and were not even allowed access to the outside world.
“When [the migrants] wanted to buy something, they were expected to write it on a piece of paper for their bosses to buy it for them,” reads the statement.
78 employees were found on-site and were working in substandard conditions for a minimum wage of R6.50 per hour, seven days a week. No formal contracts were drawn up, and unlawful wage reductions and unpaid overtime was also discovered to have occurred. If employees requested leave, they were allegedly told by their employers never to return.
In addition to working in deplorable conditions, their living conditions on the premises were also deemed “uninhabitable”.
The IES was told that in once incident, a Malawian worker incurred a serious injury after his hand was severed while operating a machine. It is alleged that instead of seeking urgent medical attention, the employer took the worker to a Chinese doctor on the premises, and refused the worker additional professional medical help.
The employer was subsequently arrested by the Hawks during the raid, and all employees were recorded and taken to a place of safety while investigations continue.
Beautiful City was also issued with a notice for failing to pay workers the prescribed National Minimum Wage.
“The underpayments for the 78 employees found on the premises was estimated to be around R6.3 million, and the employer has to pay the employees within 14 days on receipt of notice.
“The business was also issued with a prohibition notice by department inspectors – which means that no persons would be allowed to gain entry into the business,” the IES explained.
Department of employment and labour Gauteng provincial chief inspector advocate Michael Msiza said that inspectors conducting the blitz operation expressed “shock and disgust” at what they described as “the [grimmest] site” they have ever come across.
Msiza also strongly condemned the employer’s actions, and warned that the department would not tolerate “modern-day slavery” under its watch.
“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 earn a minimum wage and to be covered regarding social security,” Msiza said.