POLITICS & UNIONS | Is workplace disruption for political gain criminal?

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Nerine Kahn | CEO | Employment Relations Exchange | mail me |


When political parties begin to take over the roles of Trade Unions, there is cause for great concern in the progress of South Africa’s new democracy. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), long a disrupter in the South African political landscape, has recently turned to workplace disruption.

What does this say for the effective and well delineated workplace laws that we have in South Africa? Does it contribute or add to the breakdown in the Rule of Law?

Background

I recently give advice where the EFF, in its capacity as a political party, sent a letter to an employer raising a set of grievances, which for all intents and purposes, was within the remit of the Trade Union.

The workplace did have a Trade Union, recognised by the employer with the associated rights that a duly recognised Trade Union enjoys.

The demands were founded on the political manifesto of the EFF.

I do support political parties assisting members or citizens, if there are issues of rights in law that are being violated. However, as a political party, the obligation would be to advise membership to follow the principles set out in the legislation of the country. Nothing stops citizens raising concerns via their parliamentary voice, if the relevant state entities do not assist, or the trouble persists.

What happened here was not that. The EFF, from its branch that operates where the employer is situated, attempted to engage the employer on a list of grievances and demands, which included employees alleged grievances against the Trade Union, to which they were paying dues, and their duly democratically elected shop stewards.

Led by the EFF, the workers proceeded on an unprotected strike and through the EFF made demands of the employer. This was done without following the recognised bargaining principles that the law enjoins everyone to follow.

Disruption of the employers business, reputational loss, damage to business continuity as well as damage to workplace relationships, ensued.

History of EFF and employees

When initially asked about this, the first thing that came to mind was my experiences at Marikana.

It was at Marikana that I first saw the letters ‘EFF’. So, I can appreciate that EFF members may believe they have the right to deal with labour issues, since as an organisation they emerged from the foothills of Marikana.

They elected to become a political party and have aligned themselves with the trade union, AMCU. In so doing, they demonstrate that they are aware of the rights and obligations that a collective has in relation to workplaces, as well as the delineation of political and workplace roles.


PODCAST

A SEMINAL interview with Nerine Kahn, CEO, Employment Relations Exchange, and Dr Ivor Blumenthal, CEO, ArkKonsult, on how to deal with recent insurgencies of the EFF into workplaces where they systematically force agreements between employers and trade unions, steal union membership and close businesses.

Nerine Kahn is possibly the best place person in South Africa to discuss what can and should be done to counter this scourge……


Legal position

South African legislation is well advanced and developed, insofar as rights for employees and belonging to a Trade Union, are concerned.

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) was one of the first pieces of legislation promulgated in post–apartheid South Africa. It is significant to note that the prioritisation of this was an important way to re-establish a normalised status quo in South African workplaces, given the role that the Trade union movement (and many big businesses) had played in the change, but also because workplaces were at the coalface for the implementation of apartheid policies.

The negotiated social contract that is the LRA, envisages an orderly manner for employees to exert their collective rights. A hard fought for right and section 21 of the LRA, clearly sets out the manner and process by which these rights may be obtained and exercised. It is significant that the intention was to remove politics from this space. Workplace rights were to be dealt with by the employers and employees.

The evolution of this over the last 20 years was furthered, when some of the hard principles, such as majoritarian workplace rights, were softened in the most recent set of amendments to section 21.

Criminality?

Given the entrenched laws that there are to deal with this, it raises the question as to what exactly was the intended outcome, from the EFF perspective, in engaging directly with the employer, and what can an employer do in such a situation?

The word ‘Criminality’ comes to mind in regard to the disruptive behaviour of the EFF. There is


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