Labour court told that decision on banking strike must be made urgently

The planned protest action by workers in the banking sector is taking centre stage at the labour court. Stock image.
The planned protest action by workers in the banking sector is taking centre stage at the labour court. Stock image.
Image: Jackson

Questions over whether a notice to strike is valid two years after it was filed were at the centre of the Business Unity SA (Busa) argument in the labour court on Wednesday as it tried to stop a potentially crippling banking-sector protest from going ahead.

Busa wants the court to stop the protest, planned for Friday and organised by union federation Cosatu and banking union Sasbo. The organisations are striking over retrenchments in the banking sector.

Busa told the court that its application was urgent, and asked the court to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. 

Sasbo warned this week that 45,000-50,000 of its members would go on strike to protest against retrenchments which had hit the sector. A second wave of protests is planned for October 7.

Sasbo said the protest had the potential to cripple the banking sector.

Busa said the central question facing the court was whether Cosatu and Sasbo could rely on a Section 77 notice of the Labour Relations Act which was filed with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in August 2017.

The section regulates protest action that promotes socio-economic rights of workers.

Busa argued Cosatu and Sasbo could not rely on that notice, while Cosatu and Sasbo argued that the notice was valid.

Counsel for Busa, Alistair Franklin SC, said Cosatu's reliance on the notice it sent to Nedlac in 2017 had no merit.

"The legislature never envisaged a situation where a union can keep a Section 77 notice on ice and then dust it off for use years later. Any protest that takes place as planned will be at odds with the provision of the Labour Relations Act and will, thus, be unprotected," Franklin said.

In its notice served on Nedlac on August 21  2017, Cosatu outlined its demands in respect of economic crisis in SA. Cosatu wanted private companies to be prohibited from retrenching employees with a view to maximising profits.

Daniel Berger SC, for Cosatu, argued that the notice sent by the trade union federation was still valid.

He said in its notice to Nedlac in August 2017, Cosatu said "the current wave of retrenchments is of great concern".

"The issues that were raised in 2017 are still bedevilling the country in 2019. We are still facing retrenchments," Berger said.

Berger said Nedlac considered Cosatu's notice in September 2017. In that notice, government departments and Busa were cited as respondents.

Berger said Nedlac noted in its certificate it issued in November 2017 that Cosatu's demand on the prohibition of retrenchments could not be agreed upon at the September meeting.

Berger said government sought an opportunity to seek a mandate with its principals, and said it would engage with business where necessary.

The government had undertaken to come back to Nedlac within a month, but it did not do so. Berger said, on the facts of the case, both the government and Busa were not committed to resolving the matter of retrenchments.

"Nedlac was quite correct in deeming that the parties were no longer committed to the process and concluded that the notice filed by Cosatu has been considered by Nedlac in terms of the act," Berger said.

Corne Goosen, representing Sasbo, said Cosatu engaged in protest action in February this year relying on the 2017 notice. Goosen said there was no complaint by Busa when Cosatu gave a 14-day notice to Nedlac in January this year.

The hearing continues.

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