Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Stallion Security staff fired after strike action.
When Simon Kgatla earned a job with Stallion Security guarding one of the major stadiums in Johannesburg, he thought that he would also get a piece of the 2010 World Cup cake promised to all South Africans. However, just a week after the World Cup started, Kgatla’s dream has turned into a nightmare. The 26-year old native of Soweto was among the thousands of Stallion Security staff abruptly sacked after their colleagues went on strike and severely embarrassed FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC).
Kgatla, who speaks in stilted English, wasn’t among the workers who downed tools demanding higher wages. In fact, while his colleagues inspired a security crisis that spread like a wildfire from Durban to Johannesburg, he was at home enjoying his time off and watching a match in a nearby shack.
“I first heard of the strike after the Germany-Australia game,” Kgatla reveals. “I had taken my time off and only heard it on radio. I didn’t take part in it and I didn’t think it would end up affecting me as well. Actually, by this morning, I didn’t even know we who guard Soccer City were involved.” Kgatla was shocked, therefore when, he reported for work at the Stallion Offices at Jeppe Street, only to be informed that his job had been terminated. The stunned youth was then told to report the following day to the same address to get his final wages in a development that highlights a blatant abuse of workers’ rights.
“It’s really disappointing. I didn’t take part in the strikes, but now I’m being punished alongside everyone else. I turned up today expecting to be sent to Soccer City as always. I had thought that maybe I could earn some money off this World Cup. But it seems that won’t happen. I worked 16 days last month and that’s the pay I expect to pick up tomorrow.”
Kgatla’s tale of woe is shared by over 3,600 other Stallion Security personnel who were fired without warning and now face a month of World Cup action with their financial dreams in ruins. The ill-opportune industrial action by stewards from Stallion Security, a private firm contracted to guard four major World Cup stadiums, forced the panic-stricken organisers to rush to the South African police for help. That knee-jerk reaction saw the police swing into action to secure the Soccer City, Ellis Park, Green Point and Moses Madhiba stadium, while also engaging in running battles with groups of disgruntled workers in front of the global media.
“A meeting between the South African Police Service [SAPS] and the local organising committee has resulted in an interim arrangement of the SAPS taking over the security detail at four stadiums, in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg, in the interest of ensuring safety of the World Cup tournament,” revealed Major General Nonkululeko Mbatha.
Yet, while the police intervention helped spare a nation from blushing and avert a potential flashpoint, it will have done nothing to assuage workers who feel their basic rights have been infringed upon by employers intent on exploiting them without adequate remuneration.
Michael Mosegathele, a Stallion security steward outside the FIFA accreditation centre at Soccer City, revealed that after the strike, Stallion Security top brass told workers that since police had taken over security at the affected stadiums, they had all been rendered redundant.
Mosegathele, who was promised double the salary of an ordinary security guard for the World Cup gig and even went to a special school to get enhanced special event training, received only R190 (US$25) for his last night on the job after the termination of his employment. That R190 was an improvement on the R135 (US$18) they were paid for the previous nights he had worked at Soccer City.
“We’re receiving less money than promised and yet had to pay R1 200 for our uniforms and also pay for one meal per day. They promised us R1 500, that’s what FIFA told us, but Stallion gave us R190. It’s unfair.”
Mosegathele revealed that although the workers were contracted for 12 hour shifts from 6am to 6pm, they often had to work up to 16 hours. In fact, so inadequate were the wages that some of the workers were sleeping in Park Station between games as they did not have money to get home. “We were being offered from R190 rand, for 15-hour shifts. It wasn’t enough and we wanted that increased to at least R450 ($59).”
Stallion Security bosses, however, accused the workers of attempting to hold the World Cup at ransom and not being patriotic. Teboho Lehlokoe, an official from the firm who addressed the stewards, insisted that the strike had backfired. “They thought they would strike and we would give them whatever they wanted. They were under the wrong impression that if they went on strike, the World Cup would not happen,” he said. “But that was their biggest mistake. They don’t understand that whether they strike or not, the World Cup will go ahead. This is not about them or Stallion. It is about South Africa and the country will do whatever it has to do to make sure that the World Cup is successful.”
Lehlokoe’s remarks have been heavily condemned by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which accuses Stallion Security of exploiting its workers.
“Why should the workers be exploited?” COSATU secretary Tony Ehrenreich asks. “If they got the money they were promised, they wouldn’t strike. Stallion’s short-sightedness and greed were the causes of the strike. They are underpaying workers in relation to what the stadium pays the security companies. This leads to a situation where workers doing the same job are paid different rates of pay on the same site. This World Cup belongs to all the people of South Africa and the Security Companies cannot sabotage the event with their greed.”
COSATU in fact extends the buck a bit further. It accuses FIFA, the local organising committee and even the South African government of being party to the entire affair. “The LOC and FIFA are trying to put all the blame on Stallion, but why didn’t they ensure Stallion enters into written contracts that stipulate the pay per day? This conduct by the security companies is now being sanctioned by South African government, who is bailing them out with the South African Police Services.”
Stallion Security shifted the blame onto the local organising committee when its director, Clive Zulberg, maintained that the salary rates of the workers were determined by the LOC. “Stallion understands that the LOC has made various public statements to the effect that it played no role in determining the rate of remuneration payable to Stallion’s guards for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That is false,” said Zulberg. “The rates we paid were determined at the LOC’s insistence. In fact, in respect of match-day guards, Stallion successfully negotiated the LOC upwards to time-and-a-half on the normal tariff.”
Stallion Security, which is contemplating legal action against FIFA and the LOC, even claims that all trouble could have been inspired by rival security firms envious of Stallion’s tender to secure World Cup facilities. “Clearly someone had advised them to wait until match day to protest. People are unrealistic about the World Cup and think they can make a killing,” Lehlokoe reasons. “We know who the troublemakers are. It’s people from other security companies who didn’t get the World Cup contract. They told the workers that people all over the country were getting far more money than they were. This was hugely miscalculated by people who are doing well, but it is the stewards who are now the losers.”
As the finger-pointing game gets even more heated, no one, bar COSATU, seems interested in the workers’ plight.
Danny Jordaan, the LOC CEO, proved as much when, in the aftermath of the workers’ termination, he said: “Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances”.
The authorities in South Africa won’t be bothered with whose rights are trampled upon, providing the World Cup is pulled off. This is a painful, more vivid illustration of how the show must go on regardless of the victims it leaves lying stranded and ill-treated in its wake.