Telkom retrenchments ‘revives’ architects of Apartheid

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Telkom’s race obsession and Solidarity’s penchant for playing the race card conspire to revive apartheid

While Telkom – South Africa’s largest fixed-line telephone group – professes to be focused on restructuring on its business strategy, which involves trimming off some fat it is the issue of race that is taking centre stage.

Lately, the Solidarity union has been accusing Telkom of using employment equity as criteria for retrenchments.

While Telkom has lambasted Solidarity for what it says are inflammatory and misleading inferences suggesting that race “is the key selection criterion and that white employees will be targeted.”

Telkom adds: “It’s regrettable that Solidarity has chosen to play the race card again, in the context of a process that needs to address critical challenges that the company is facing,” Telkom spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said on Tuesday.

In the past Solidarity, which represents mostly white employees, has dragged Telkom into race politics.

Last year in July Solidarity was up in arms over claims that white workers were being targeted by Telkom for retrenchment.

“If you work at Telkom and you’re white, you’re guilty! Guilty, because you’re the ‘wrong’ race and you’re costing the company BEE points,” claimed Solidarity at the time.

“Forget about the years of loyal service, your qualifications and the positive contribution you make.”

Solidarity has uploaded a parody video of Telkom onto YouTube, which is from a scene in the film Downfall, depicting Adolf Hitler’s last days in a Berlin bunker.

“We have a major (ity) problem … we are being pushed into a corner,” says Hitler in the video. The character could have been depicting Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko.

Solidarity is at it again.

On Tuesday Solidarity reiterated that Telkom had deliberately listed race as one of the selection criteria in its section restructuring notice.

This was after Telkom earlier said Solidarity was playing “the race card”.

The union said that the use of employment equity as criteria for retrenchment would contravene the Employment Equity Act.

“Last year, following an agreement between the parties, Solidarity obtained an urgent court order against Telkom that forbade Telkom to use race as criteria during restructuring,” said Marius Croucamp, the Solidarity spokesperson.

“Telkom is well aware of the fact that the courts do not allow it. Telkom is the one that chose to play the so-called race card – not us.”

Croucamp said that Solidarity would continue to oppose Telkom’s use of employment equity as criteria for retrenchment.

In a letter to the Telkom on Tuesday Solidarity demanded that the company withdraws the controversial race criteria.

“It is clear that Telkom has an obsession with race, despite the fact that the court forbade it to continue with this practice,” said Croucamp.

“If race is not a factor in the restructuring process, Telkom should have no problem withdrawing the said criteria. We will approach the court again if Telkom does not withdraw the criteria.”

However, in its notice issued to the unions in terms of section 189 of the LRA, Telkom proposes that “LIFO (Last in First Out) subject to the retention of scarce and critical skills and where applicable, employment equity considerations” be used as the selection criteria.

“As with any company, Telkom looks at a number of employment criteria in deciding to bring people into the company or to retain them during times of change,” says O’Sullivan.

There is no doubt that the restructuring process that includes retrenchments undertaken by Telkom is a painful but necessary exercise. The question is it really necessary to shift the main goal and refocus it on race?

The architects of racial politics must be smiling in their graves.

Telkom bosses should remain resolute and restructure the business to make it leaner, more efficient and profitable.

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