Why the Post Office was right to fire strikers – Business Day, 10 July 2016

THE South African Post Office (Sapo) has correctly dismissed 228 employees for embarking on an unprotected strike in June. The unlawful strike was organised by the quaintly named Influential Information and Communication Union of SA (IICUOSA), to raise "concerns about the parastatal’s decision to suspend its secretary-general Gibson Ramoadi".

By Sara Gon

THE South African Post Office (Sapo) has correctly dismissed 228 employees for embarking on an unprotected strike in June. The unlawful strike was organised by the quaintly named Influential Information and Communication Union of SA (IICUOSA), to raise "concerns about the parastatal’s decision to suspend its secretary-general Gibson Ramoadi".

IICUOSA is an independent union, registered in 2015. On its Facebook page, it describes itself as being "driven to protect all workers in their employment. We a union that is more than a wokers union driven by workers but we also a family to all (sic)".

Although it says nothing about what it actually does for its members, it is obliged like all other trade unions to comply with the Labour Relations Act (LRA) 66 of 1995.

The Constitution guarantees the right to strike; the LRA sets out the terms which govern that right.

Section 64 allows every employee to strike provided the issue in dispute has been referred to a bargaining council or to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and a certificate stating that the dispute remains unresolved has been issued; or 30 days has elapsed since the referral was received by the council or the Commission; and that at least 48 hours’ notice of the commencement of the strike, in writing, has been given to the employer in writing; and where the state is the employer, at least seven days’ notice of the commencement of the strike has been given.

For a strike to be protected, employees must comply with section 64 or any different procedures provided for in a binding collective agreement. If a protected strike prevents a striker from being dismissed for striking, an unprotected strike is one where a striker is not protected from dismissal. This appears to be what has happened in the Sapo case.

The perception is that unprotected strikers in the public sector are never punished for crippling unprotected strikes. The repeated unprotected strikes by Pikitup staff in Johannesburg are the most recent example. The fact that South African law guarantees the right to strike, but subject to limitations, serves as a timely reminder that employment may not be treated by workers as a God-given right.

A job is never a right — it is a privilege with protections. Notwithstanding legal protections, an employee is obliged to do the work for which he is paid in the manner required and with due deference of the business’s purpose and survival.

Everyone knows that Sapo is in an appalling state. It has been appallingly managed, beset by lengthy strikes, with service shrinking and post offices closing down. Sapo is under real risk of collapsing because it cannot provide a professional service. Sapo is trying to find R3.7bn to stabilise its operations, after receiving a R650m capital injection from the government.

Management has negotiated a stay in the labour strife and averted a threatened strike. Undeniably, Sapo staff’s employment is uncertain and wages are under threat, but there are times when employees and unions have to pull together with management to achieve the survival of the organisation. The responsibility is not management’s alone.

We don’t know why Sapo management suspended the general secretary of IICUOSA, Gibson Ramoadi. But given the fanciful name of the union and lack of clarity of purpose, one suspects it’s less than professional. Anyway, Ramoadi’s suspension as an employee can be challenged legally at the CCMA or at an appropriate bargaining council. An unprotected strike is not appropriate and those who chose to use this process to pressurise management deserve to be fired. And if the union encouraged the strike, it must take responsibility for its members’ loss of jobs.

Sara Gon is a research fellow with the South African Institute of Race Relations.

Read the article on Business Day here.

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