Current and former employees of global retail and household goods giant Steinhoff say their dreams of luxury holidays and building beautiful homes have been shattered by controversial Steinhoff Sikhulasonke Investments.
The scheme was supposed to see most of the employee of Unitrans, a company formerly associated with Steinhoff’s, getting shares in the form of units; it was not clear how many shares were in a unit, but the workers were told that when the shares paid out, they would be able to go on holidays in Europe. Financial advisers were even brought to advise employees on how to spend their money. But when 2017 came and the shares were paid out, some employees got the shock of their lives.
Seagirl Sibanda, one of the leaders of the former Steinhoff employees, said she and other workers have laid fraud charges against Steinhoff. The angry workers had even hired a lawyer to represent them but lost the legal counsel because of financial reasons.
“The scheme was an employee and black empowerment initiative, so when the shares were paid out, we were advised that when the payout is made, we would be able to take our families overseas. This shows that this is a lot of money. I was shocked to get R9 600. There are irregularities because I’m told one unit is equal to the service at the company, so some people got big amounts of money and some got less,” Sibanda said.
Another worker, Sibusiso Ntombela, said he got R28 000 when the shares paid out, but was given three units of shares, while other employees at Greyhound received more units. Ntombela said they were also called to a workers’ meeting where they were told that they should spend their money wisely and that they would be able to afford property and to send their children to university.
“I was supposed to get four units but they gave me three. All we want is transparency and we want to know how much was deposited into Unitrans by Steinhoff,” Ntombela said.
He said he had plans of opening his own business with the shares that were being paid out.
“They distributed the shares in a suspicious way and this has affected my plans. I was not expecting that small amount of money. How can they call a financial adviser for that amount of money?” Ntombela said.
The group of around 600 workers said they had also sought help from the unions but failed.
The Steinhoff saga, the biggest case of corporate fraud in South African business history, has dominated financial and general news since the company’s share price collapsed on December 5, 2017.
In a letter to the disgruntled employees, Steinhoff stated that all shares had been paid out and there was nothing irregular with Steinhoff Sikhulasonke Investments (SSI).
“By way of record, SSI is not an investment scheme and did not undertake any investment activities. The entity was created for the sole purpose of facilitating the holding of the shares of Steinhoff International Limited for the benefit of various entities, including two employee share trusts which are still registered in terms of the Trust Property Control Act. The shares were funded by Steinhoff international limited. The shareholder loan was subsequently paid through dividends and the disposal of shares in accordance with employee trust rules. The disposal of all shares was made on October 23, 2017 and all active employees were paid out their capital distribution,” Steinhoff said
On the understanding that Steinhoff is facing numerous law suits, numerous attempts were made to reach out to the company. Unitrans told The Star that the company would respond in due course.