Famous Brands-owned restaurant chain Mugg & Bean has confirmed its countrywide audit into labour practices at its franchise outlets would be complete in the “next few weeks”.
This after trade union federation Cosatu threatened legal and protest action against the company following a Citizen report revealing widespread accusations of unfair and illegal labour practices suffered by waitrons and other staff members at the hands of Mugg & Bean franchise owners and managers.
Famous Brands’ operations executive for Mugg & Bean Jeanne Geldenhuys said although the legal obligation to make sure each restaurant followed labour laws and regulations remained with the franchisees as the employer, the company was taking the matter seriously.
Following the allegations raised in the report last month in which waiters and other restaurant staff claimed they were forced to pay a daily breakage fee despite not earning an actual salary, the company said it had immediately launched an investigation at two of the restaurants.
“The Franchisees at these two Mugg & Bean restaurants have worked closely with the Bargaining Council and the Department of Labour over the past month, and both restaurants are fully compliant with the new National Minimum Wage legislation and the standard breakage fees have been removed,” said Geldenhuys.
She said the company was in the process of proactively implementing a full audit across Mugg & Bean restaurants nationally to ensure compliance.
“We anticipate this audit will be complete in the next few weeks and immediate action will be taken should any restaurants be found to be non-complaint.”
Waitrons and other staff members working at various Mugg & Bean outlets spoke to The Citizen anonymously in a series of interviews in which they claimed managers were threatening to retrench workers following a previous article that revealed workers were not earning salaries, surviving only on tips and a 3% sales commission. This as well as the widespread practice of charging a daily upfront breakage fee of up to R25 a day became the subject of investigations being conducted by Mugg & Bean and the Council.
A waitron who was in their 10th year of working at a Mugg & Bean outlet in Johannesburg told The Citizen they feared this would be their last year at the restaurant. The manager allegedly asked five staff members to sign documents giving two weeks’ notice of their termination. Staff members were told this was because the restaurant could no longer afford to keep them on staff as they would soon be forced to pay them a salary.
A waitron at another outlet said workers felt increasingly intimidated by the actions of management following the release of the previous two articles on the matter.
“We have been given warnings for attitude, and we have been asking her what is ‘attitude’, but she won’t answer us … Now we are afraid for our jobs because even the CCMA won’t hear from us because she paid them [an alleged bribe].”
The waitron claimed that most workers at the restaurant were immigrants who “did not have their papers”, leaving them open to exploitation. Waiters at the establishment were calling on trade union federation Cosatu to intervene.
Cosatu’s parliamentary officer, Matthew Parks, said the federation would mobilise protest action targeting specific branches of the chain and condemned the alleged intimidation.
“Cosatu is shocked by the victimisation and pending constructive dismissal of several waiters at different franchises of Mugg & Bean. This is illegal,” he said.
Parks said the federation had planned visits to the specific branch that issued termination notices to staff members and “if needs be” would mobilise its union affiliate Saccawu to picket at the branch.
Saccawu would be signing up waiters and staff at Mugg & Bean to join Saccawu to ensure they were organised and could be defended against “brutal exploitation”. The union would also be registering disputes against Mugg & Bean for violating the Labour Relations Act and National Miminum Wage (NMW) Acts at the CCMA.
“Cosatu has demanded and will ensure the Department of Labour sends inspectors to raid Mugg & Bean to ensure all workers’ labour and NMW rights are respected and enforced. Workers are protected from victimisation and unfair dismissals by the Labour Relations Act. Workers cannot be paid less than the national minimum wage. This is binding upon all employers since 1 January 2019. Any employer who violates this is breaking the law and will be fined.”