Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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: 45,300,000
Capital: Pretoria
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The use of disproportionate force against striking workers continued in South Africa, as several strikers were left seriously injured after police intervention. A union leader who had led a three month strike was shot and killed on his doorstep.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association: The law provides for freedom of association. All workers, with the exception of members of the National Intelligence Agency (NTA) and the Secret Service are allowed to join unions and are protected against unfair dismissal. Employers can, however, lay off workers on the grounds of "operational requirements".

Collective bargaining: The law provides for collective bargaining rights and organisational rights, such as trade union access to work sites and the deduction of trade union dues. The law contains provisions to encourage collective bargaining in small businesses, and among home workers and workers in the informal economy. Unions can seek redress in the courts for unfair dismissal.

In May 2006 the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal on an on-going case on whether the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is under duty to bargain collectively with SANDU.

Right to strike: 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. This right is undermined by the legal right of employers to hire replacement workers during a strike.

Trade union rights in practice

Organising obstructed on farms: Trade union rights are not always respected in practice. In the agricultural sector, in particular, employers are hostile to unions and organising is difficult because union organisers are considered trespassers on private property. Workers who try to form or join trade unions face intimidation, violence and dismissal.

Increasing anti-unionism: There is a growing climate of anti-union repression. Employers and the government have both prevented strikes by obtaining a court order that declares them 'illegal', thus forcing strikers back to work. On some occasions rubber bullets and live ammunition have been used against strikers both by government and employers' forces.

In March 2006 the Communication Workers Union (CWU) threatened to take Telkom to court after the parastatal communications company reportedly tabled a plan to give improved profit-sharing only to workers who did not participate in a two-day strike in March.

Violations in 2006

Background: There was an unprecedented level of industrial unrest during the year. In September 2006 the South African Reserve Bank reported that the number of strikes in South African industry had reached a ten-year high, with a total of 1.6 million working days lost to strikes in the first half of 2006.

Trade unionists seriously injured by police: In April 2006, 46 trade unionists and union leaders were arrested by police at the Pongola crossing with Swaziland, following a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Swazi workers and calling for full democratisation in Swaziland. Police use of excessive force left eight trade unionists hospitalised with two having suffered serious injuries.

Union leader shot dead at his home: In April 2006 Sibongile Tutu of the South Africa Transport and Allied Workers (SATAWU) was shot and killed when he answered his front door in Langa, Cape Town. Tutu had been in charge of co-ordinating striking guards in Langa during a violence-plagued three-month strike by security guards.

Police fire on striking workers in Cape Town: In July 2006 Cape Town police opened fire on strikers employed by Lithotech Africa Mail and arrested more than 200 of them. COSATU issued a press release condemning the action and supporting the call from the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union (CEPPWAWU) to ensure the safety of striking members "from the brutality of the police who are abusing their power." Four workers were hospitalised.

Police chief shoots at workers: In November 2006 the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) accused the Ekurhuleni police including its chief, Robert McBride, of firing rubber bullets at protesting municipal employees who were calling for him to be suspended. SAMWU branch secretary in East Rand (Johannesburg) Koena Ramatlou told media that ten protesting workers had been injured. The Ekurhuleni metro police alleged the union march was illegal.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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