THE PUBLIC protector wants Phumelela's government assets audited. Supplied
Phumelela  Gaming and Leisure has confirmed that it is in the process of retrenching at least 500 workers and closing some of its Betting World and Tab stores because of the dismal state of the economy.

In a statement yesterday from the company's Danie Theron, chiefly aimed at allaying fears of disruptions to the Vodacom Durban July at Greyville this weekend, Phumelela said it had undertaken a Section 189A retrenchment process, facilitated by the CCMA, because it had no option but to close a number of stores that were not operating profitably.

The Durban July is touted as being Africa's most famous horse race and is staged by Gold Circle, the horse racing and tote betting company in KwaZulu-Natal.

Academic and Professional Staff Association (Apsa) secretary-general Professor Boitumelo Senokoane said there were no standing agreements with the union on either the Durban July, or retrenchments, and that the labour movement would continue to oppose the retrenchments.

Senokoane said the union had been in talks with Phumelela over the retrenchments, which had been whittled down to 500 workers from an initial proposed 800 in March until the leisure group abandoned negotiations.

“They are lying. We will still be disrupting the Durban July over the retrenchments; we are opposing the retrenchment of some of our members,” he said.

Senokoane confirmed that the retrenchments would affect the two divisions and that the union would work on halting the retrenchments altogether.

Theron said Phumelela executives had met with officials of Apsa on Tuesday afternoon following media reports that the trade union was planning to disrupt this Saturday's event.

“After yesterday's meeting, Phumelela decided to amend its offer to Betting division staff. This revised offer has been submitted to Apsa officials and Phumelela is now awaiting a response,” he said.

But Senokoane dismissed this, saying that there had been no discussions since Phumelela staged a walk-out on negotiations and talks collapsed.

Phumelela is in the crosshairs of Public Protector Busi Mkhwebane, who in May this year released a report of investigations into the group's ownership of national racing assets, which she found were unlawfully transferred to the privately owned group “for a song” in 1997.

Mkhwebane has given the Gauteng Gambling Board a month to present her with a plan on how it would implement her recommendations and wants all of them done in the next six months, but Phumelela has scoffed at her findings and threatened to institute legal proceedings to have the report set aside.

Mkhwebane, in a report on horse racing in South Africa, said the chief executive and board of directors of the Gauteng Gambling Board must take urgent steps to “conduct an audit of all state-owned assets which were transferred to Phumelela for a song with a view to establishing their origin, value on transfer and ownership prior to transfer, as well as to establish whether they were utilised for the benefit of the horse racing industry and citizens who are affectionate about the sport of horse racing”.

She also wants the 50percent bookmakers’ levy, which is paid to Phumelela by the Gauteng Gambling Board, to be stopped and channelled to a new entity that will serve as the regulator for Thoroughbred Horseracing in the country.

Mkhwebane has estimated that 50percent of the annual gambling levy paid by gambling boards across the country to Phumelela is in the region of R70 million.