Lunch breaks in the toilets and no bras – work at the Mara Phones factory

A former employee of Mara Phones has painted a grim picture of the working conditions they were subjected to at its now defunct Durban factory.

The facility is expected to be sold by its main lenders, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Standard Bank, later this month.

This comes just two and a half years after President Cyril Rampahosa opened the establishment to much fanfare.

Mara Phones said its smartphones did not sell as expected and the Covid-19 pandemic severely affected its operations.

The closure cost more than 200 workers at the Mara Phones factory their jobs and cast doubt on the future of its Experience Store in Soweto, run by entrepreneur and SABC broadcaster Chanté Jantjies.

MyBroadband managed to track down one of Mara’s employees, who told us about his experience at the factory.

The employee alleged that Mara Phones had no respect for human rights or fair labor practices.

The workers received their last salary in April 2021 and have not received any pay since then.

“It’s been ten months of hunger, poverty and stress from our creditors,” the employee said.

“We’ve lost more assets to non-payments, and no one seems to care.”

The employee also said there was no communication from Mara Group Chief Operating Officer Hetal Shah or Mara founder Ashish Thakkar regarding the plant closure.

On top of that, the employees couldn’t claim the UIF because Mara Phones “refused” to give them termination letters when the factory stopped production.

“We cannot ask for any kind of government support, like the R350 [Covid-19 relief of distress] grants, as we are still registered as employees of Mara Phones,” they said.

The employee also claimed that Mara had never paid withholding tax from employee wages to the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

Mara Phone Factory (11)

The employee went into detail about the circumstances at the factory.

“The rules were established and we had no choice but to obey; otherwise, the pundits would constantly remind us how the company is doing us a favor by paying and feeding us as South Africans.

Although they were hired to work nine hours a day at a rate of R33 per hour, the workers were only paid for eight hours a day.

For a lunch break, they were only allowed 30 minutes a day.

But the factory canteen only served vegetarian food and staff were not allowed to bring their own meals with meat.

The worker said this was supposed to be in line with instructions from Mara’s group operations manager, Hetal Shah.

The worker described the food provided in the canteen as “low-end”.

Staff who managed to sneak in their own food had to eat it in the bathroom “while others relieved themselves”.

Employees said workers were also uncomfortable with religious imagery in the factory.

“Besides only providing vegetarian food, it made us feel like we were forced to embrace their culture,” they said.

Women were said to have been abused

Female workers at the factory were also reportedly banned from wearing bras, reportedly to prevent security alarms from being set off by the metal wires they contain.

It is not common for metal detectors such as those at airports to go off when women wearing bras walk through them. Indeed, they are set with sensitivity thresholds which do not take into account low levels of metal content.

“Instead of fixing the system, women were humiliated and discriminated against,” the employee said.

Women were also required to remove their wedding rings when entering work areas.

Some employees in their department working on “non-seated EMS stations” were forced to stand from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. even though there was no production.

The employee said a colleague of his was fired for not being able to stand for so long after falling ill.

MyBroadband asked Mara Phones to comment on the charges, but the company did not respond to our questions.

Read now: Plan to save South Africa’s first smartphone factory

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