Foundation closes doors amid strike

Amy Foundation staff have been protesting, claiming they are unhappy with the way the non-profit is being run.

The Amy Foundation’s board closed its Sybrand Park offices this week following protests by striking employees.

Foundationspokeswoman Michelle Bagley said: “The board has regrettably decided to close the Sybrand Park offices in light of the recent protest.

“Staff safety is our first priority. That is the reason a decision was taken to close the office earlier than usual.

“For the time being, the Sybrand Park offices will be closed until further notice.”

Last Thursday the employees protested outside the offices, accusing management of unfair dismissals, corruption and the misuse of funds.

Formerly known as the Amy Biehl Foundation, the Amy Foundation is an NPO that runs after-school centres for vulnerable youth in poor communities.

The employees said they were concerned about the Khayelitsha centre which is due to close at the end of the month.

Director Kevin Chaplin said all NGOs were finding it increasingly difficult to raise funds.

“It is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. There are children in Khayelitsha who rely on our support and it pains me to cut back on the service we have provided,” he said.

Elvis Sibuko, arts and culture programme co-ordinator, said they wanted Mr Chaplin to speak to them.

“We have a lot of grievances from the co-ordinators, the drivers, administrators, facilitators, kids and parents, but Kevin never comes to us, to listen to us. Whenever we ask him, he always refuses and always hijacks our meetings to bully us. So we say ‘enough is enough’.”

Anele Nomandla, environmental co-ordinator, said they wanted to know how the foundation’s funds were spent.

Mr Chaplin said the foundation was a credible, transparent and trusted organisation.

“It is governed by a board of trustees and independently audited. Our annual financial statements are freely available for public scrutiny,” he said.

Ms Nomandla claimed Mr Chaplin blocked co-ordinators from speaking directly to the board. But, Mr Chaplin said: “The board is very clear about corporate governance. The board leaves all operational and staff issues for the MD and management to deal with.”

Maphelo Batyi, an academic programme coordinator for the foundation, wrote to management on behalf of staff, calling for, among other things, investigations into the foundation’s finances, operations and policies; how board members are selected and their relationship to the managing director; and what the letter claimed was Mr Chaplin’s repeated election to the board.“Kevin wants the children who are beneficiaries to pay for attending the after-school programmes in 2019. We object to this because the Amy Foundation is an NPO and this practice is unacceptable,” the letter said.

On Friday, Mr Batyi and five other employees left the office in tears, claiming to have been verbally abused and threatened by Mr Chaplin.

Mr Batyi claims some of the staff were locked in the office by management until other staff came to help them.

The board then closed the offices on Tuesday, and in a letter to staff yesterday, Wednesday November 21, COO Afiefa Behardien, said the office had been due to close on December 14, but the board had decided to close it immediately following events on Friday.

Ms Bagley denied staff had been abused by the managing director or that there had been any attempt to lock them in the office.

“In the chaos during the protest, some staff were in the building and some were outside while the office was locked. We eventually opened the gate and all staff could freely leave,” she said.

Ms Behardien’s letter said all after-school programmes would end on Tuesday, November 20 instead of November 29, the facilitators will be paid up to November 29 as normal and holiday pay will be paid on December 14.

Ms Behardien’s letter also told employees that even though the office and after-school centres were closed, the staff should ensure they were available to work as and when necessary.

This has left many employees feeling uncertain about their future.

Mr Batyi said they were unsure whether the foundation was only closed for the festive season or closed for good.

He intends taking their grievances to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and the Labour Court.