Africa & WorldCourts and Law

Judge tells EFF to register as trade union if it wants to organize protests against employers

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  • The Johannesburg labour court ruled that the EFF is not a registered trade union and has no authority to get involved in workplace disputes.

A Johannesburg judge has read the opposition EFF the riot act over involving itself in labour disputes, telling it to register as a trade union if it insists on organising strikes against employers.

Johannesburg Labour Court Acting Judge Reghana Tulk presided in a final interdict application by the owners of a Spar franchise brought against the EFF.

Brightstone Trading dragged the party to the Labour Court over unrest that hit its Roodepoort Spar supermarket.

Members of the EFF’s Sofasonke Mpanza Region descended on the Spar after the owners refused to engage on issues involving employees.

In an action declared unlawful by the Labour Court, the EFF members staged protests with a handful of Spar employees on May 16 and again from May 28 to June 1. The standoff was sparked by the demotion of an employee from floor manager to cashier.

The Johannesburg labour court ruled that the EFF is not a registered trade union and has no authority to get involved in workplace disputes.

The matter before Acting Judge Reghana Tulk was an application by Gordon Road Spar in Roodepoort for a final interdict against the EFF, preventing its members from disrupting its business operations, threatening its employees and customers and vowing to “burn the store down”.

The company was granted an interim interdict in June last year at the height of a wave of violent protests, which resulted in the store’s closure on at least three occasions.

The protests were apparently sparked by the demotion of an employee from floor manager to cashier.

Spelling out the background, Tulk said several employees had complained to EFF local branch chairperson “Fighter” Sechaba Sono about their working conditions.

He sent a letter to management, on an EFF letterhead, listing certain demands of its “member workers” and requesting a meeting.

He stated in the letter: “We will not accept any suggestion that since we are not a trade union, we can’t therefore represent our members and workers.”

Members arrived on the date of the proposed meeting and the situation became volatile.

They shouted and demanded that cashiers leave their work stations, that customers leave the store and threatened to attack anyone who did not comply. They also physically barricaded the entrance to the store.

After another two violent incidents in the following weeks, the Spar obtained the interim interdict.

The EFF opposed the finalisation of the order.

Its legal representatives said Sono, and the protesters, did not have the authority to act on the EFF’s behalf.

They argued that the EFF could not be held liable for the conduct of its members, or those who purport to be its members and that the Spar should rather sue those individuals.

They also argued that wearing EFF regalia did not mean that they were, in fact, its members because its regalia could be bought anywhere.

The EFF had, in October 2020, issued a warning of the legal and financial implications of all workplace protests and strikes and cautioned that all these matters must be approved by its labour desk.

“Stripped to its core, the EFF says it is not liable for the conduct of the protesters. It has no knowledge of what happened because it was not there and it cannot be held liable for members who act on a frolic of its own,” Tulk said.

However, she said, the facts showed that the letter of demand was written on an EFF letterhead and penned by branch secretary Sono.

“There were at least three incidents of unlawful protest by members of Ward 82 under the watch, and I dare say, the blessing of its leadership.

“The EFF does not deny that Sono is a branch secretary and placed no evidence before this court that those who supported him were not EFF members.

“He is part of the leadership.

“The EFF must account for its involvement in the unlawful protest action.

“There is no substance to its argument that it can only warn its members against unlawful conduct but cannot enforce it. The exact opposite is true.

“It is empowered to enforce its (constitutional) provisions and act against members and restore discipline.

“It must hold its members accountable.”

Tulk said the unacceptable behaviour of the protesters “has no place in our employment law dispensation” and undermined the dispute resolution process prescribed by the Labour Relations Act.

She granted a final interdict and ordered the EFF to pay the Spar’s costs saying the company should not be out of pocket for “seeking to stop and contain this unlawful conduct”. – TimesLIVE

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