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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 50,100,000
Capital: Pretoria
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Workers exercising the right to strike were heavily penalised during the year. There were also repeated incidents of the police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at strikers taking part in pickets and protests, often resulting in injury. Trade union rights are protected by law though the right to strike is weakened by the employers' right to hire replacement workers.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are guaranteed in law. All workers, with the exception of members of the National Intelligence Agency and the Secret Service, are allowed to join unions and are protected against unfair dismissal, and unions can seek redress in court for such dismissals. The law contains provisions to encourage collective bargaining in small businesses, and among home workers and workers in the informal economy.

Furthermore, the right to strike is recognised for all workers including those in the public sector, provided they do not work in essential services or the security forces. However, that right is undermined by the legal right of employers to hire replacement workers during a strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The ruling African National Congress (ANC) won the April general elections, pledging in its manifesto to make decent work the central focus in all of the party's economic policies. Public prosecutors dropped corruption charges against ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who was officially chosen as the country's president by the newly-elected parliament in May. After the economy went into recession for the first time in 17 years, Mr Zuma announced a 2.4bn rand (USD 300m) relief scheme in August for workers facing redundancy. The new government faced a wave of public sector strikes and violent unrest in the townships.

Strikers injured by rubber bullets: Four South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (SATAWU) members participating in a truck drivers' strike sustained minor injuries after they were shot at by police. Petros Tshabalala, 24, said he was hit by a rubber bullet after his arrival at Beyers Naude Square in Johannesburg on 8 April to listen to a report-back on the talks between unions and representatives of the road freight industry. Bernard Molokomme, Stanley Mthimunye and Aron Khanyeza also sustained injuries during the shooting and went to hospital for treatment. Tshabalala said the incident took place just after a man had his car keys snatched from him. "The police took him to safety. Then they shot us," he said. Tshabalala said he was told that the police contingent were angered by an attack on one of them by a lone man wielding a stick. Shortly before this incident Satawu provincial secretary Xolani Nyamezele had strongly condemned other violent incidents during the truck drivers' strike.

Anti-union practices at fruit company: On 24 June the Fruit and Agricultural Workers Union (FAWU) called a strike at Expo-Frut/UNIVEG in Piketberg in frustration over the management's continued undermining of collective agreements. Workers also claimed that management had asked them to resign from the union, that shop stewards were being victimised, with some receiving written warnings, and that there were constant attempts at union bashing. The matter was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Police open fire on striking municipal workers: Police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas into a crowd of between 100 and 200 striking municipal workers in Plettenberg Bay town centre on 4 August at the start of a countrywide strike by the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU). The march was followed closely by a strong police contingent who opened fire after a few strikers sat down in the street on the return leg of the march. The chairman of the Congress of South African Trade Unions' (COSATU) Plett branch, Dumisane Mnweba, who was leading the marchers, said the police action was unprovoked. Police claimed later they fired in retaliation at stones thrown at them. Vincent Sawule was hit twice in the back and an elbow by rubber bullets and Washington Nkumada in the leg. Sean Lose's arm was burnt by a thunderflash.

Shop stewards suspended after striking over health and safety: The South African pulp, paper, and woodlands company Sappi instigated disciplinary proceedings against 19 shop stewards and 23 other workers at the Enstra mill in Gauteng province. The paper workers were charged with inciting three safety strikes on 5 May, 8 May, and 28 May at the 700-worker mill near Johannesburg. The incident started when shop stewards from the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood, and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), intervened to prevent a worker from cleaning in a part of the mill where a piece of equipment normally performs. When shop stewards protested that the worker had been assigned to an unsafe task, management hardened its position and the safety strikes began.

The case was seemingly resolved when agreement was reached in August. The workers concerned were given short suspensions without pay and warning letters that remained in effect only until the end of the year. However the employer then proceeded to retrench workers in September, claiming it was due to the economic downturn. The union felt the nature and timing of the retrenchments suggested they were in retaliation for the strike. According to CEPPWAWU more than 376 workers at Sappi's Ngodwana plant in Mpumalanga were facing possible retrenchments, pending consultation procedures. The union also said its members had faced a high level of disciplinary actions since the suspension of the strike.

Police shoot and injure protesting communication worker: A member of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) was injured by police during a peaceful march. The incident occurred on Friday 4 September as CWU members employed by the Post Office were marching to the High Court. The court was due to hear an application for an interim interdict to stop the Post Office strike, called over pay inequalities. Plain clothes police officers fired rubber bullets striking one of the marchers, Zodwa Maduna, injuring her in the arm. She was taken to hospital by ambulance. COSATU said the march had been peaceful and orderly that there was no justification for the attack. There was more shooting when the marchers assembled, again peacefully, at the CWU Provincial Office for a report-back from their officials.

Workers shot during wage demonstration: Guards from the "Red Ants" private security company shot five municipal workers and a security guard during a wage demonstration at the Tembisa Civic Centre in Ekurhuleni by the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) on Thursday 10 September. It was not clear whether rubber bullets or live ammunition were used. Some 280 rubbish collectors had been on strike since 21 August over bonus payments, salary scales and annual leave, after management had failed to implement an agreement concluded in 2007 and again in June 2008. SAMWU spokesman Mokoena Ramotlou reported that the demonstration had been peaceful when the security guards attacked. A municipal spokesman said the municipality was investigating circumstances which led to the incident, adding that the Red Ants were called in by the municipality to ensure stability. The six injured people were taken to hospital.

Striking parking attendants sacked: Over 160 car park attendants in Cape Town protested in September at being dismissed for protesting at the mistreatment of a colleague. Nokulunga Zonke, 20, was fired by the company's director in July for failing to meet her targets, and ordered to remove her uniform there and then, even though she only had her underwear on underneath. The company was under new management, and each car park attendant had to generate ZAR 500 a month, or be dismissed. A colleague who saw her being stripped radioed other attendants who rushed to picket outside the office. Those who took part were later fired for holding "an illegal strike".

Striking clothing workers arrested: Approximately 140 clothing workers taking part in a legal wage strike organised by the Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) were arrested on the morning of 17 September in Johannesburg. The workers were peacefully picketing in front of clothing factories in support of their wage demands when the police arrived. According to SACTWU, its members offered to disperse, but before they could do so, police started firing teargas and rubber bullets and arresting the picketers. Louisah Modikwe, a SACTWU organiser, was hit and manhandled by a police officer. Another worker was taken to hospital. Most of the arrested workers were women, and they were later released without charge. The dispute was resolved and the strike ended on 8 October.

Union recognition obstructed: Over 40 of the 60 workers at Austro Wooding Machine and Tools in Roodepoort voted to join the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). The NUMSA organiser then approached the company to ask for recognition and other organisational rights as laid down in the Labour Relations Act (LRA). The employer did not respond and so the union took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The employer then failed to attend the dispute hearing at the CCMA. The workers finally voted to go on strike on 9 November in support of their demands for union recognition. The response of management was to issue notice of a lockout and employ replacement labour.

Striking hotel workers arrested: Over 30 members of the South Africa Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) were arrested in the course of a dispute with Sun International South Africa. Other workers were continuously provoked, harassed and subjected to all sorts of racial insults from the police and private security firms as the attempts to break the strike continued. The dispute began on 4 December after negotiations on wages and working conditions broke down. The union reported that the hotel management had negotiated in bad faith, continuously derailing the negotiations. Negotiations resumed during the strike but just as it appeared that an agreement had been reached, the company reverted to its pre-strike position as a final position. The dispute had not been resolved by the end of the year.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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