NUMSA will challenged compulsory balloting at the Constitutional Court
12 September 2019
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) intends to challenge the decision by the Department of Labour (DOL) to make balloting compulsory before engaging in any strike. We believe the changes to the Labour Law are nothing more than a further unjustified limitation on the right to strike. This is why NUMSA under the banner of SAFTU mobilized the working class to embark on a strike against the labour laws. On the 25th of April 2018 this action resulted in the biggest strike in post-apartheid South Africa, as members of the working class in their hundreds and thousands protested against the implementation of this law, and other laws which seek to undermine our hard won gains which we won against the former, brutal Apartheid state.
The Capitalist ANC government is once again, pandering to White Monopoly Capital by implementing this law. The poverty National Minimum Wage of R20 per hour, as well as this draconian law on strike balloting were designed to secure a pool of cheap labour which can easily be exploited with extremely low pay, and, at the same time, severely limiting the right to strike and eroding the power of the working class to bargain for better wages and conditions in the workplace. We condemn the capitalist ANC government for betraying the working class with this Apartheid law!
Below are some of the reasons for rejecting this law:
1. This was a product of bitter battles against a racist brutal Nationalist Party regime, and many workers died to secure the right to strike. We reject attempts by the government and the Department of Labour (DOL) to tamper with the constitutional right to strike. The introduction of compulsory secret balloting before a strike is nothing else but an imposition on the limitation on the right to strike. We are calling on the government to stop this vicious attack against workers.
2. The war against apartheid was won partly because the working class organised and mobilised its forces to attack the brutal state through regular strikes and pickets. The state is attempting to place restrictions in place so that workers will no longer be able to exercise their democratic right to withhold their labour. These rules are a bureaucratic way to silence the power of the working class. They are designed to frustrate workers by lengthening the time it takes for workers to make a decision to strike and to place cumbersome and costly obligations on unions with a view on effectively undermining effective strike action.
3. The new compulsory picketing rule prevents workers from being able to strike if no picketing rules are in place. According to the new laws, if there are no picketing rules in place then workers cannot go on strike. The commissioner of the CCMA can only issue a certificate of non-resolution (strike certificate) if the picketing rules are in place. If the employer and the union cannot agree on the rules, then the commissioner will have to decide what those rules are.
4. The Labour Relations Act says that if workers break picketing rules then the employers can go to the Labour court to get a court order. A judge of the Labour court now has the power to:
- Grant an order stopping workers from continuing with the strike
- Grant an order suspending the picket
- Order that the union be fined for the fact that the picketing rules were broken.
The judges now have virtually unfettered power to suspend a strike or a picket on technical grounds and on peripheral issues which have nothing to with the substance of the strike action, which are quite capable of being dealt with by other means (as was the case before the amendments).
Before the amendments came into effect, the Labour court would simply order that workers must comply with picketing rules (and various effective remedies existed in the event of non-compliance). But with the new amendments, the judges now have the power to decide whether workers can continue to strike or picket. This is an unjustified attack on the right to strike and it takes the power away from workers to decide when a strike can end.
It is interesting to note that the Department of Labour has done little to deal with the fact that Bosses often flout health and safety rules, resulting in the injury and deaths of hundreds of workers. Their inspectors are often absent and they fail workers on this crucial issue, but they have chosen to prioritize strike balloting over anything else. The DOL is quick to grant companies exemptions from adhering to collective agreements, even after workers have sacrificed their hard earned wages on strike action, in order to secure improved conditions. The DOL is demonstrating once again that it is an institution created to serve the interests of the capitalist class, at the expense of workers and their families’.
The Registrar of the DOL in an interview with Talk Radio 702 on Tuesday this week, claimed the purpose of the law was to ‘deepen democracy in the unions’. That is hogwash! This law simply frustrates workers, and will delay the decision to embark on strike action through the imposition of this bureaucratic process. If employers feel that the ballot was not free and fair, they can simply run to court and have the outcome declared null and void, and we will be forced to embark on this process again. It gives employers even more power than they already have, in order to block workers from embarking on strike action.
Furthermore, employers still have the power to undermine a strike with the use of scab labour and there are no laws against that. But the only power workers have to bring employers to their knees is being systematically taken away through this law.
We have been consulting our attorneys on this issue and we will be challenging this law at the constitutional Court. Even though it has been implemented, we intend to prove that this legislation is nothing more than a disproportionate and unjustified attack on the hard won fundamental constitutional right to strike. The African working class of this country sacrificed their lives so that we are able to exercise our right to strike today. Now the Capitalist ANC led government is actively eroding that right, in order to please white monopoly capital. The same ANC that wants to take credit for the liberation movement is behaving just like our Apartheid oppressor. Shame on them! They are spitting on the graves of every worker who fought against the brutal racist Apartheid system.
We call on our members to heed the call by SAFTU for a general strike against these oppressive laws.
The Struggle continues!
Issued by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary, 12 September 2019