Johannesburg - A young film graduate from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology has complained about the appalling treatment he was subjected to a month into his employment at DO Productions.
Viwe Gcilishe claimed the production company in Cape Town exploited and discriminated against him, chastising him for speaking his home language at work.
He was inspired to speak out after he read an article by veteran actress and producer Florence Masebe in this newspaper, calling out local production companies for negligence towards staff, and failings in the most basic of functions, such as catering and hygiene.
Masebe also questioned the process of due diligence by these companies.
Gcilishe said: “Things started going wrong for me when I raised the language issue. I was called in for a disciplinary hearing and told I was in the wrong, because there were individuals who felt we shouldn’t speak isiXhosa because some people didn’t understand (the language).
“It was really confusing for me because in the same office people spoke their languages when they wanted to. We had Swedish nationals and some crew members would speak Afrikaans and not once was there an objection,” Gcilishe said.
Co-owner of DO Productions Marlow de Mardt said Gcilishe was hired as an independent contractor for a specific project, for a certain duration, and the language issue was merely to assist communication.
She said the staff sat around the same desk arrangement to ensure everyone was on the same page with the project as it was being set up.
“During this time I noticed that (Gcilishe) would frequently switch to Xhosa when speaking with two colleagues who were trainees at the same table, who were not new to the company."
“I requested he please speak English so we all understand what he is saying and this would offer me and another senior management person the opportunity to respond and fill in the gaps for him, instead of him relying on the two trainees to inform him. (Gcilishe), however, chose to continue to revert to Xhosa whenever speaking to them at which point he was again asked to speak English in our work environment,” said De Mardt.
While he was employed as a production assistant, Gcilishe said he was later told he would be working as a trainee.
This was after he lodged a complaint about De Mardt referring to isiXhosa as “a funny language”.
“I got redirected to the art department as a trainee. I told them I have no experience in the art department.
“I think it was a way of redirecting me out of the company.
“I got there expecting to do new things and I was given a list of things to do before leaving the office.
“It included washing dishes and cleaning toilets. I was working closely with the co-ordinator, so I thought I would get roles that suited my experience and knowledge and not responsibilities like that,” he said. Gcilishe laid an official complaint via e-mail with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which advised him to take it up with the Department of Labour.
“DO Productions have the numbers to obtain a good tax rebate, on paper there is transformation.
“That was one of the issues I wrote about to the DTI, that they don’t know what we go through on the ground.
“No one cares enough to come and check if these people claiming to be imparting skills are doing it.
“These companies know that we are at a financial disadvantage and without them you sit at home and become a statistic. They have the power to feed you and so they are able to manipulate you,” he said.
DTI spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said the complaint was a labour matter and that the department only dealt with funding issues.
“Nobody from our side will deal with such an issue. There are relevant bodies in place to complain to and for different functions and ours, as a department, is to give funding. That’s all,” Medupe said.
He did not reply to queries about whether the department was concerned about production companies that seemed to make a habit of failing at their mandated function.
The Sunday Independent