The facts of
the case were quite simple. The union
had recruited 11% of the employer’s workforce.
Regardless of its slim minority membership, it sought collective
bargaining rights to negotiate wages and conditions of service on behalf of
its’ members. Unsurprisingly, the employer refused to grant the union the
collective bargaining rights it sought.
Employers typically refuse to grant minority unions collective
bargaining rights, as they run the untenable risk of union proliferation,
resulting in multiple collective bargaining arrangements in the same workplace
or bargaining unit.
proceeded to the CCMA, and an advisory arbitration award was issued paving the
way for the union to embark upon a protected strike to compel the employer to
accede to its collective bargaining demands. Picketing rules were ultimately
issued by the CCMA, and made an order of Court, after which the protected
Relations Act has a Code of Good Practice relating to picketing which, at
paragraph two, states that “Section 17 of the Constitution recognises the right
to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions. This
constitutional right can only be exercised peacefully and unarmed. Section 69
of the Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1995, seeks to give effect to this right
in respect of a picket in support of a protected strike or a lock-out.”
Needless to say, the strikers completely
disregarded the picketing rules, and their obligation to picket peacefully, and
“remained steadfast in their conduct of violence, intimidation and unlawful
behaviour” noted the Labour Court judgment, which continued that the union
“either had no control over (the strikers), or did not want to control them”.
The range of unlawful conduct on the part
of the strikers included the intimidation and serious assault of non-strikers,
the damage to the property (homes and vehicles) of non-striking employees,
blockades of shopping malls, and the assault of members of the public. In many instances, the SAPS needed to be
summonsed to restore order, “bring the striking employees under control, and
protect persons and property”.
The Labour Court judgment, in its
analysis, noted that “It has become an almost common place occurrence that
where there is a protected strike, violence and unlawful behaviour inevitably
follows. It is almost as if striking
employees believe this is how things should be done. One only has to spend a
week in the urgent Court in this Court to appreciate the gravity of the
problem. A significant portion of the
urgent roll is devoted to interdicting violence and unlawful behaviour during
strikes. The situation perpetuates
because it seems that there is very little consequence for transgressors,
despite picketing rules and interdicts by this Court being issued”.
This steely stance adopted by the Labour
Court is refreshing, and this show of back-bone on the part of the Court,
whilst overdue, is to be welcomed.
It is arguable that the all too common
cycle of unlawful and violent strike conduct, should rob a protected strike
from its protected status? Section 69
(1) of the Labour Relations Act is clear, a picket must be “for the purposes of
peacefully demonstrating”, and not, as we so often see, carte blanche license
to cause public mayhem.
The Labour Court judgment continued that
“It follows that it cannot be seen to constitute a violation of a fundamental
right where employees are held accountable for failing to exercise their right
to picket in a peaceful manner as required by way of a suspension or forfeiture
of those rights …. those who commit acts of criminal and other misconduct
during the course of strike action in breach of an order of this court must
accept in future to be subjected to the severest penalties that this court is
entitled to impose. The right to
protect, picket and assemble is directly linked to it being exercised
The judgment suspended the picketing
rules, and interdicted and restrained the union from continuing to picket, or
to gather, protest or assemble at any of the employer’s premises.
consultancy Tony Healy & Associates.
www.tonyhealy.co.za Call 0861 115
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