Human Rights Commission turns spotlight on business

Karam Singh (photo supplied).

Barbara Maregele

7 September 2015

Human rights violations in the workplace are a growing issue says Karam Singh, Western Cape manager of the SA Human Rights Commission, which is focusing on human rights in business in 2015-16.

“While we get a lot of complaints against local government, the Commission is sensitive to the demands of local government,” he said in an interview.

“Human rights violations within the workplace are a growing issue of discourse internationally.”

“We are trying to engage with the private sector now around what their obligations are,” he said.

In the quarter ending in June about 20% of the complaints received were related to equality issues.

“About 11% of the complaints were under the freedom of expression category, 10% for socio-economic rights, 8% for housing issues, and 7% related to administrative action, he said. Some complaints concerned more than one category.

The Commission received an estimated total of 29 complaints and 110 enquiries in August compared to 37 complaints and 130 enquiries in the Western Cape in July.

He said mediation was the best way to educate people and change the way they think.

“The Commission is constantly trying to identify matters we believe would be best resolved through mediation. During this process, we can educate individuals, communities and sometimes the authorities about what it means to have a human rights-based culture,” he said.

During the first quarter, the Western Cape office “successfully” mediated two cases, Singh said.

“The first was an equality case involving gay couple Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who were denied access to a Christian Ethos guest house in Wolseley owned by Peter and Hazelmary Bull. The Commission was able to get an apology from the respondents and an agreement from them that they would not discriminate in this way in the future,” he said.

“The second mediation matter was between land occupiers demanding services in the Worcester community and the Breede River municipality. We are currently still monitoring the situation there,” he said.

Complaints which appear to be human rights violations are dealt with by the Commission while enquiries are often referred to specialised bodies like the Commission For Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and office of the Public Protector.