FIGHTING BACK AGAINST EMPLOYERS’ ONSLAUGHT ON OUR MEMBERS, USING COVID19 AND NATIONAL LOCKDOWN AS AN EXCUSE
SACCAWU, wishes to, as we hereby do, register her bitter observation and deep disappointment in respect of the unbecoming conduct of employers in the organized sectors, whose primary objective is to intensify class offensive strategies and disguise them as simple industrial relations matters. As we mark commencement of the extended Lockdown in South Africa and strive to act in response to the challenges occasioned by COVID-19, we observe with weighty heart the defiance in the sense of calculated and convenient solidarity by employers and captains of capitalist’s class. The hypocrisy of capitalism, which was observed by Fidel Castro who once said, “I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, and it is alienating … because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition” is becoming a reality; if we could provide class analysis to the fixation to employ strategies that dehumanize workers in moments of crisis like during the CORONAVIRUS pandemic.
The institutions of dispute resolution observed the call by both State President and Chief Justice on matters that cannot be enrolled and those that can be heard on urgent basis during the Lockdown period. The determination to annihilate/wipe out the very fragile working conditions and the very important nation’s imperative developmental agenda in respect of job creation, job security and the very need to expand social security programmes, and instead increase efforts to engage in dehumanizing acts such as: forced and unpaid leave, reduced pay, retirement fund contribution holiday without proper consultation with Union, opportunistically and unprocedurally administer the provisions LRA Sec 189 (A), unilaterally impose lay-offs and reduction of working hours, , undermining the OHSA provisions, failure to provide safe and reliable transport services and general failure to provide PPEs and equipments towards sanitization on frequent basis. These represent the quantum of what forms the basis of the voluminous disputes we have declared, with more others possibly in the process of being declared, in the period under review.
We have since seen the highest level of disregard of labour legislation by employers as if the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic was a license to act as they wish and with impunity. We have seen large scale unilateralism taking place in workplaces and the fact that various Governmental departments and institutions tasked with the custodianship of labour, employment and industrial relations as well economic development decided not to brief workers and trade unions on the applicable measures directed to employers as well as the classification of essential and non-essential services, thus placing workers at the mercy of employers, since they would engage from a position of ignorance and weakness. Upon declaring essential services, unions were left out with no specific declaration in their regard and this has also substantively compromised and somewhat weakened the unions.
Some employers like Sun International seem to have seen an opportunity to conduct very radical and brutal changes and restructuring of the workplace as well as working order, to the detriment of workers; without following the prescripts of the law and in fact looking at creative, opportunistic ways to avoid compliance and/or selective application of and reference to the law. Employers are quick to make reference to the BCEA provisions, e.g. around leave, etc.
SACCAWU has had to contend with the aggressive and offensive arrogance of employers who have decided that they all of a sudden have an absolute right to determine the fate of workers, using the pandemic and resultant National Lockdown as cover. For example, in the Hospitality Sector:
- Sun International has been the chief culprit in this attitude of not caring about workers and deemed it appropriate to declare, just after the declaration of the National Lockdown, that they will shut down The Carousel Casino & Entertainment Centre and the Naledi Sun Hotel & Casino and cease operations completely going forward. This without going through the legislated process of consultation (as defined by s189 of the LRA). Instead, the company arrogantly demanded of the Union to interact digitally in what they pretend will be consultations when in fact they have made a decision, which they have had no problem communicating to workers, customers, the media and all and sundry. We are not sure whether the relevant Gaming Boards have been taken into confidence since they issued gaming licenses for such units, informed by certain fundamentals and considerations, like job creation, local economic spin-offs as well as boosting local Over and above this, the company decided to reduce the salaries of workers, lay some workers off, determine the operational patterns post-lockdown and engage in many other disgusting processes they term interventions, allegedly (and conveniently) in the light of COVID-19 and the National Lockdown, again, with no courtesy to consult with SACCAWU notwithstanding that this would have far negative implications on workers. This company rubs salt in it by declaring that they do this for jobs security, etc. when it is clear the opposite holds true! Though taken aback, dismayed and disgusted with this plunder on workers and their union, we equally not so surprised, as this is same company that during its hosting of the extravagant Gupta wedding; dismissed more than fourteen (14) workers, majority of whom were the shopstewards, at the behest and whims of the Guptas. The sin of these workers was to protest against alleged racial treatment by this notorious family and some allegation(s) of sexual harassment by some of its entourage member(s).
The other companies that sought to take advantage of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are:
- Southern Sun, who also were threatening to suspend the recently collective bargaining / wage agreement.
- Protea Hotels by Marriott
- Birchwood Hotel
- Other Hotels
The retail sector has not been innocent either with many companies taking full advantage of the challenges posed by the pandemic whilst pretending to be considerate of their employees when in fact all they do is to continue their pursuit of profits maximisation over the life of people. Having been allowed to continue trading, these companies would stop at nothing to invest as little as possible on matters relating to workers, their safety and well-being as well as protecting them against the possibility to be infected. The following are but some of the companies that have been at the forefront of the brutality and are guilty of greedily putting profits before lives of people:
- Shoprite Checkers
SACCAWU has for the past month or so been patient in the face of hostilities and confrontation by the employers and this was arising from our appreciation of the dire situation faced by the entire country.
We have, with a heavy heart come to an unfortunate yet necessary decision to invoke our rights in terms of the Labour Relations Act, the consequence of which must be placed squarely on the shoulders and right at the doorstep of the employers mentioned above. We cannot continue to bear the brunt on angry, uncertain laid off and possibly permanently jobless members whilst employers continue to run amok.
Simply put, employers have declared war against our members and it is only natural that we defend our members, irrespective of the circumstances we all find ourselves in, which is why we have taken the first step of declaring disputes and an application for an interdict on Sun International, thus far. We refuse to allow our members to be sacrificed as if they were the cause of the pandemic and as such have to pay for the institution of the National Lockdown.
In conclusion: We embrace all other drastic preventative measures that are populated as stated in media by the State; led by the President and the EXCO of the NEDLAC on Friday 17th April 2020, which is aimed at the steady economic recovery beyond COVID-19.