Activist Heineken en arbeider Zuid-Afrika
Een intiem moment tussen een activist en een Heinekenarbeider.

Multinational companies fuelling precarious work and women’s oppression in South Africa

the case of Simphiwe Nchodu

Simphiwe Nchodu is a 26 year old single mother of one child. She lives in Johannesburg Township called Kathlehong. Nchodu shares her two –roomed home with her mother and siblings. Her 4 year old child lives with her father.

Until February this year Nchodu was employed by the transnational beer making company, Heineken as a Line Checker. She had worked from the companies’ premises for four years. Heineken is Dutch an international company that operates in over 180 countries. The company reaches 192 countries across the world via its products – ‘’we’re proud that 25 million Heineken are served each day across 192 countries’’ . On its website, Heineken South Africa prides itself of having a transformation agenda that speaks to enhancing economic participation of previously disadvantaged communities. The company further declares- ‘‘we stand by our values: passion for quality, enjoyment of life, respect for people and for the planet .

Heinekenarbeiders op vergadering in Zuid-Afrika
Twee vrouwen luisteren aandachtig tijdens een syndicale samenkomst aan de poorten van een Heinekenfabriek in Johannesburg.

Simphiwe's story

Although Nchodu cites Heineken employer because she works from Heineken premises towards producing Heineken products in reality her employment agreement was through a labour broking company called Imperial Managed Logistics. In fact, before she was ‘passed on’ to Imperial Managed Logistics, she was with CJK, then LSC Masakhe, both labour broking companies as well. Before amendments to the Labour Relations Act Section 198A of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) that gives right to workers who earn below R205 433 per year and have worked for more than three months to be recognised as employees of the client company, Nchodu would not have been legally recognised as a Heineken employee.

Nchodu’s payslip states that she is employed as a Line Checker though in reality her duties often involve more than this. She works whatever duties she is assigned. In addition to not having properly designated duties, she also didn’t have set a working schedule. Schedules are at the discretion of the supervisors who are under Imperial Managed Logistics. Her ‘normal’ working hours were 6am – 6pm, with a 1 hour lunch break. There were no tea breaks in between. Weekly working hours. This is in conflict of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) which state that workers must not work more than 45 ordinary hours per week. The Act makes provision for workers to work for less than 45 ordinary hours per week but not more. It notes that more than 45 hours of work is constitutes overtime and that overtime and you must be paid higher wages (more per hour) for the overtime hours.  Nchodu however did not receive any overtime payment, regardless of the time worked.

Labour broking has range of contractual relations such as temporary work, labour broking system, and employment agencies engaged in outsourcing of labour. Unlike permanent workers with predictable incomes, benefits and job security, precarious workers’ conditions of employment conditions are unstable, fragile and extremely flexible.

The changing nature of the ‘traditional’ work place is notable for disproportionately affecting women, particularly young women. From general observation, the profile of a typical broker worker in South Africa is a young woman. Women still face obstacles that are entrenched in patriarchal values and practices that continue to underpin and sustain sexist economic and political systems, including traditional leadership structures.  In short, the struggle of precarious workers cannot be separated from the struggles for women’s emancipation as women.

Einde meeting Johannesburg
Arbeiders pendelen samen na een vakbondsvergadering aan de poorten van een Heinekenfabriek in Johannesburg. Op de achtergrond staat een geladen oplegger met Heinekendrank.

Because Nchodu’s working schedule was not set, in fact it depended on the desecration of the supervisor, the more shifts she got, the higher was her income which varied from R 3 000 – R 5000 per month. ‘It was very difficult, it is difficult making ends meet. I spent R 600 for transport, R 1500 for rent, a thousand rands on clothing and R 1000 on groceries. By the end of the month I was left with nothing’ she says.

As highlighted previously, shifts depended on the discretion of the supervisor. Noting this Nchodu’s supervisors, mostly male took advantage of the situation and abused their power. Nchodu takes us through a web of sexual harassment that she endured. She highlights that most male supervisors abused their authority and in particular sexually harassed female workers in exchange for shifts.

“It started with one of the supervisors sending me inappropriate WhatsApp messages. I asked him to stop and he stopped. Then another supervisor started asking me for nude pictures. I sent him pictures of by breasts and he said they were not good enough…”

Simphiwe Nchodu, ex-Heineken worker

For now Nchodu stays at home with no shifts coming her way, this after she took a bold and very difficult stand against sexual harassment.

Her experiences directly contract the company’s self-professed standards of providing a safe and conducive working environment

“We provide a safe working environment for all workers‚ including those outsourced to our brewery. We respect the principle of minimum wage and workers are fairly remunerated in line with industry standards’ , the company said in a statement. This, following the October 9, 2018 strike action at the company’s Sedibeng brewery. Nchodu’s experience speak to nowhere near the company’s website profile that boasts of ‘a transformation agenda that speaks to enhancing economic participation of previously disadvantaged communities’ and a company that ‘stands by our values: passion for quality, enjoyment of life, respect for people and for the planet ‘’ and ‘responsible global brewer’.


Nchodu and her colleagues most of them systematically dismissed from their work for a range of issues, get support from The Heineken Workers Forum. The forum is backed by Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO). Asked what kind of support, if any she would like from Belgium and others sympathetic to her and her colleague’s case, Nchodu replies “we want them to put pressure on Heineken to give us our jobs back. We want them to put pressure on Heineken to respect the rights of workers, she replies. Then I ask, ‘Practically what would you like them to do?”

‘We ask them to boycott Heineken products. We ask them for solidarity.’  Our mobilisation has been affected as some people have relocated to rural areas because of a lack of income.  I struggled getting to this meeting today. I had no money for transport and the comrades had to make contributions.  We always contribute towards helping each other with transport’.  She shares.