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Labour court to decide on Thursday if banking strike may go ahead

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The labour court will rule on Thursday morning on whether it will stop the banking sector strike scheduled for Friday.

The protest is planned by union federation Cosatu and the South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) against retrenchments in the banking sector.

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 the potentially crippling strike from going ahead.

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

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

The union warned that the protests 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 in 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 the socio-economic rights of workers.

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

Counsel for Busa, Alistair Franklin, argued that 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,” he 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, counsel 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,” said Berger.

Berger said Nedlac considered Cosatu’s notice in September 2017. In that notice, government departments and Busa were cited as respondents. He 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 the government sought an opportunity to seek a mandate with its principals, adding that 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 argued that 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,” he 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 court reserved judgment until 10am on Thursday, when an order will be made. Reasons for the order will be provided at a later stage.


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