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Union flouts labour laws, say workers

Jan 06 2013 15:37 Sabelo Ndlangisa, City Press

SA Municipal Workers Union members march in Cape Town. (Sapa)

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Johannesburg - Cape Town employees of the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) are taking it to the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for threatening to lay them off – allegedly without following labour laws.

This is after the union ordered all its Cape Town head office employees to relocate to the Johannesburg office when the union starts its working year tomorrow.

The union is shutting down its Cape Town head office and will in future conduct business from Joburg.

Twelve of the 15 affected Samwu employees have accused the union of flouting labour laws after the union’s general secretary, Walter Theledi, informed them two days before they closed for the December holidays that they were being moved to Johannesburg.

In a letter sent to the 12 employees on December 20, Theledi said the union had considered retrenching them because they were refusing to move and had therefore “become redundant”.

One of the people who attended the meeting when the relocation was discussed in December told City Press they were taken aback when people came in a few days later to remove office furniture and equipment, because the union had not adequately consulted its employees about the move.

“This kind of behaviour would never have been tolerated by the union if a municipal employer had acted in the same way,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Many of the persons earmarked for retrenchment have contributed to the advancement and protection of the rights of municipal workers for many years.”

The decision to have only one head office, in Johannesburg, was taken by the union’s congress in Mangaung last year because “Gauteng province is not just the economic hub of the country, but the centre in terms of its union membership demographics”.

But the congress resolved that a feasibility study should precede the relocation. The employees’ representative, Dale Forbes, said they wanted to hold the Samwu leadership to the Labour Relations Act, which he said required a consultation of about two to three months when an employer initiates a retrenchment.

“There can’t be a quick fix to this issue, so they will be compelled by law to comply. People have homes, families, children and elderly parents to look after. The situation doesn’t make it possible for them to relocate. It is not clear what kind of assistance the union will give them,” said Forbes.

In a memo to Theledi, the 12 employees asked the union to request the CCMA to appoint a facilitator by mid-January.

Samwu spokesperson Tahir­Sema said a feasibility study had concluded that it was too costly for the union to keep two head offices.

He said the union was still keen to negotiate with the disgruntled employees individually, and was “willing to reconsider the date on which they must report in Johannesburg”.

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