Is your T-shirt campaigning? 8


This week in the Cosatu News, Fawu reported that : “A shop steward and employee of the Rainbow Chickens plant in Worcester, Zolani Newu, was suspended on Wednesday 4 March 2009 after wearing an ANC t-shirt to work.” (Dominique Swartz, FAWU media office, 6 March 2009)

Now it’s important to note that this is a food establishment – all employees are required to wear protective clothing in compliance with food safety regulations. So the clothing worn “to work” will be placed in a locker until going home time.

Since when has an employer been able to instruct employees on what they should wear “TO” work?

In the early 90’s, employers were extremely sensitive to “political” T-shirts. After 14 years of democracy and a few dozen political parties to vote for in the upcoming election, do we still need to be so sensitive? What does wearing a T-shirt really signify?

In these stringent economic times, we’re all starting to wear our clothes longer. How many of us possess T-shirts representing previous activities? What about the time we did the Argus cycle tour, or the Fun Run through Cape Town, climbed Everest or abseiled down Table Mountain – we may still wear those T-shirts, but it doesn’t mean we’re fit enough to participate today.

Equally, the fact that we have an old political T-shirt for the party we voted for in the first election is no indication that we will vote for that same party in this year’s election. Given the plethora of parties we have to choose from this year, wearing an old T-shirt might just throw everyone off the scent of where we’re actually going to place our cross.

But even if it is still our party of choice, does wearing a T-shirt constitute campaigning?

If I wear an ANC T-shirt in my front garden and greet my neighbour when he goes past, does that mean that I’m campaigning for the ANC? Clearly not.

If I wear a T-shirt about Che Guevara am I advocating revolution? Clearly not.

The Collins Shorter English Dictionary defines “campaign” as: “a series of coordinated activities, such as public speaking designed to achieve a social, political or commercial goal.” On this definition, wearing a T-shirt cannot constitute campaigning.

Yes, the company should be able to have a policy of political neutrality for the sales force going out in their own clothes to represent the company, but surely the T-shirt I wear to work – especially when I need to wear overalls for the working day – is my own business.

Is this just another example of the attitude still so prevalent among so many employers – that somehow they own the employee – that the Master and Servant relationship has not died?

It is time that employers realise that employees are adult citizens in an employment relationship within a constitutional democracy, but – far more critically – long overdue that human resource and industrial relations practitioners make that leap.

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8 thoughts on “Is your T-shirt campaigning?

  • mohale magoshi

    wvery employer has and is allowed to have a certain dress code reflecting the naure of the business and sometimes to comply with the safely rules and regulation of the business.Therefore there is nothing wronng in law to suspend or file an employee for failure for abide by the dress code.But, the employer must be consistent in applying the rules for dress code and taking nito accoun the political climate in our country we political violent is imminebt it would wrong to have employees wearing t-shirkbering the names of the political aprties-since by that they are either campaining/communicating and …a work place must be distinguished from a political filed/palce imagine IFP,DA,ACDP and so forth instead of wearing work uniform…we know how difficult is it for other political parties to tolerate others..(ANC COpe/IFP and so forth

  • Joachim L. Mamabolo

    Democracy provide people with a chance to freely express theselves – however there are limit to every thing; during elections political parties compete for support and do compete – competition if not handled well may lead to unhappy result – like wearing a T-shirt may be misunderstood by someone wronlgy – however policies and legisletion are there to guide and to protect us as we go along to express our rights.

  • Des Squire

    Let’s not jump to conclusions and concentrate on facts. The employee was suspended that is fact. The reason possibly being that the dress code of the company was not adhered to. Companies may have dress codes – fact. This being the case the employer is within his/her rights to suspend the employee pending a hearning – fact. it is so important we drop the emotional responses to so may situations with out considering facts and allowing others to express opinons that differ from ours.
    Des Squire

  • Kiki Coppin

    I agree with Audry, they must have had a good reason for suspending the employee.Some people where clothes because we have to and others wear clothes to make a statement – maybe the SS was trying to make a statement and not wearing the T-Shirt because that is all he had in his cupboard.

  • Mike Stanton

    1st issue – the dismissal would only have been fair after several unsuccessful attempts were made to prevent / rectify such dress to that particular workplace – from informal discussions to formal disciplinary behaviour. Jeans and T-shirts (political logos and slogans or not), may be acceptable at an ad agency – in a law firm, they are not.
    2nd issue – where does appropriate dress begin and end? As an ETDP, or teacher, my government is considering legislation dictating how I must dress. Yet as a SDF, or skills consultant, I get away with shorts ‘n slops here on the south coast – AND I get paid better!

  • Kim Heres

    There is no mention of dismissal in article, the shop steward was suspended, it is reported that this was for wearing the t-shirt, but it may also have been a situation where an altercation arose as a result of the t-shirt. Bearing in mind we only have one version on which to base our comments, it would be interesting to hear the employer’s version. The suspension may well be an unfair labour practice.

  • Tass Schwab

    This country is all about freedom of speech, if I wish to wear my Cape Town Lesbians t shirt to work I would expect no reaction any more than a DA shirt for that matter. The dismissal of the employee I reckon would be unfair labour practice? Are we adults or children? Either it is in your company’s policy or not re what is acceptable. Will we also start targeting people wearing crosses, or even stars of David round their neck? Leave people alone, or get it in your policy now!