Trade union held in contempt of court and heavily fined

By liamarus, 16 July, 2013

To stop unprotected strikes, most often employers who face this type of action look to interdict this type of unlawful behaviour from carrying on. However, often the employees and the responsible trade union simply disregard the provisions of the interdict. This has sparked the debate about if these interdicts are worth the paper they are printed on.

The recent decision of In2Food (Pty) Ltd v Food and Allied Workers Union ("FAWU") & others brings welcome relief to employers as the Labour Court held FAWU in contempt of court and imposed a substantial fine as a penalty for their unlawful actions:

  • On 16 February 2013, an interim order was granted interdicting and restraining FAWU and its members from continuing with their unprotected strike action and from harassing, threatening, assaulting and intimidating any non-striking employees. Despite the order, FAWU's members continued with the unprotected strike.

  • On 22 February 2013, a further interim order was granted in terms of which the respondents were called upon to show why an order which stated the following should not be made final:

    -    The striking employees were held in contempt,

    -    The striking employees were imprisoned, and

    -    FAWU was fined R500 000.
  • Judge Steenkamp found that "the time has come in our labour relations history that trade unions should be held accountable for the actions of their members. For too long, trade unions have glibly washed their hands of the violent actions of their members. This in a context where the Labour Relations Act of 1995 - which has now been in existence for some 17 years and of which trade unions, their office bearers and their members are well aware - makes it extremely easy to go on a protected strike, as it should be in a context where the right to strike is a constitutionally protected right."

  • Steenkamp held that FAWU's actions had undermined collective bargaining and "there is no justification for the type of violent action that the respondents have engaged in in this instance. And alarmingly, on the evidence before me, the union and its officials have not taken sufficient steps to dissuade and prevent their members from continuing with their violent and unlawful actions."

The employer had suffered losses of more than R16 million as a result of the respondents' actions and as a result, the court found that FAWU, and its office bearers, were held in contempt of the order issued on 16 February 2013 and fined R500 000.

by Melanie Hart

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.



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