Labour court issues temporary ban on union protests in Dis-Chem strike
The court orders union workers to stop wage demostrations outside the retail pharmacy’s premises until February 27
As violent protests by workers surge and employers calculate the hefty cost of property damage, the labour court in Johannesburg has made an unprecedented ruling barring Dis-Chem workers from picketing and protesting.
The court has ordered Dis-Chem employees affiliated to the National Union of Public Service & Allied Workers (Nupsaw) to stop wage demonstrations outside the retail pharmacy’s premises until February 27.
The interim order comes just a few weeks after President Cyril Ramaphosa signed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, including provisions to mitigate prolonged and violent strikes.
Nupsaw is affiliated to the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), which opposed the introduction of the new strike laws, describing them as an attack on workers’ right to strike.
The labour court’s interim order will put a damper on the lawful strike by Dis-Chem workers that started on November 16 and was characterised by incidents of violence across the country. A video released online showed striking workers clashing with police at Canal Walk mall in Cape Town just last week.
Dis-Chem spokesperson Caryn Barker said that while the company respected its employees’ right to strike, violence and intimidation “used by Nupsaw and its members to pursue their demands against Dis-Chem left us no choice but to seek relief from the labour court”.
The workers are demanding a minimum wage of R12,500 for all workers, an increase of 12.5% for those earning above the rate and a guaranteed annual bonus that is the same amount as their basic salaries.
Nupsaw is also at loggerheads with the company over its recognition agreement. It claimed that 2,000 of its employees belonged to the union, yet Dis-Chem would not process subscription payments.
The retail pharmacy group has dismissed the claims, saying the union declined to undertake a joint verification of its membership. As a result, negotiations between the company and the union had not taken place.
The group said the union has less than 13% representation at Dis-Chem, and fewer than 500 of its 17,200 employees were involved in the strike.
The interim relief granted to Dis-Chem has not deterred Nupsaw. Union spokesperson, Thariza Steyn said the strike would continue.
“We are only prohibited to picket, protest, gather or assemble at any place to which the public has access outside Dis-Chem’s premises,” Steyn said.
“Our members are not going to be bullied by the employer. They won’t go back to work and their strike is legal.”
The union also hoped the interim relief would be overturned when the parties met again on February 27.
Last week, Saftu called on all its members to join demonstrations against Dis-Chem.
Saftu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the strike was part of a “broader confrontation with all employers who are taking advantage of the record levels of unemployment and the fragmentation and weakness of the trade union movement”.
Dis-Chem and the union failed to reach a settlement during talks at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration. Another meeting on November 30 collapsed.
Until a recognition agreement is concluded between the company and Nupsaw, the stalemate is likely to continue.
The striking workers will also lose out on wages under the “no work, no pay” rule.