You can take action against employees who vandalise property and intimidate workers.
JOHANNESBURG – This year’s strike season has been particularly violent with a slew of reports of striking workers intimidating and threatening those who choose not to embark on industrial action. There have also been incidents of employers obtaining court interdicts against strikers who have turned violent. Recently Bell Equipment was granted an interdict against members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. Companies can take measures to protect themselves and their non-striking workers.
Gule says this year’s strike action has seen some unions embarking on intimidation tactics against non-striking workers in order for the industrial action to be more effective. In some instances, strikers have prevented supplies from entering and leaving some premises, this was particularly true in the case of the recent petrol strike where tankers were prevented from dropping supplies to service stations. Gule says this action is unlawful, because;
if you are striking as an employee, the only thing you are allowed to withhold, is your labour.
Before the strike begins, make sure you have agreed on picketing rules with the union involved, outlining what conduct is expected of employees during the course of the industrial action. In the event of employers and unions failing to reach agreement on this, the matter can be referred to the CCMA or the bargaining council. If an agreement is reached prior to the strike, anyone breaking the rules while on strike will entitle the employer to take the matter to the labour court.
Employers must make sure adequate security is in place to deal with any unruly elements during the strike. During the petrol strike, some companies hired private security guards to secure the safe passage to and from petrol stations. In cases of workers being intimidated, Gule says the best remedy is to obtain a court interdict against employees. If strikers or unions do not heed the court order, the company can again approach the court to obtain an order declaring them in contempt of court. Should they still not comply, they can face arrest.
Some employers appear to be reluctant to go the legal route for fear of alienating the unions, but he adds that companies must take action against errant employees who broke the law by taking the matter further and serving as an example to other workers. “They must be taught a lesson. During the strike, the employer must keep a ‘strike diary’ so that disciplinary action can be taken against errant workers or unions. If the action is deemed serious enough, action must be taken in terms of dismissing them.”
Gule has also encouraged companies to sue the unions, in the event of vandalism or damage to property. He says the Labour Relations Act does make provision for this. “There is often reluctance to go this route because there is this notion that there is an ongoing relationship between the parties, but you should act against the union so that you can send a strong message.” For the intimidated worker there is also recourse in that you can lay a charge of assault against a co-worker who tries to prevent you from performing your duties. You can also sue for any damages incurred.