By Mia Slabbert
The Solidarity trade union today brought an urgent application in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to give its 180 000 members the right to strike in solidarity with Sasol employees and against racial exclusion with employee share schemes in workplaces.
This comes after the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) rejected an application by Solidarity to protest against exclusive employee share schemes. Solidarity brought this application in terms of section 77 of the Labour Relations Act, giving workers the right to protest legally for a socio-economic interest. The trade union asked the court to instruct Nedlac to review its decision.
“We are here today to get an order for Nedlac to review its decision in order to allow all members of Solidarity to strike together with the Sasol workers. If we are successful, we will go back to Nedlac with the hope that they will reconsider,” argued Adv. Corné Goosen on behalf of Solidarity.
The union argued that this application was indeed urgent because large companies such as Sasol and Vodacom were already in the process of implementing employee share schemes that exclude workers purely on the grounds of their skin colour.
“If this application is to be approved only in a few months’ time, we will lose the moment and the impact of the application. Solidarity’s members at Sasol are striking at this moment, the issue is in the public interest and in the public eye at the moment. Racial tension and racial division are being created at the moment by these share schemes,” Goosen said.
“Nedlac has failed to make the correct decision regarding the socio-economic interest of this application. In their feedback, they did not challenge this statement. We are asking the High Court simply to make an order that Nedlac should review its decision,” Goosen said.
According to Anton van der Bijl, head of Solidarity’s labour law services, the union was bringing the application to allow all Solidarity members to protest in solidarity with the Sasol strikers. “This is about inclusivity of employees regardless of their race. Employees should not be judged and divided based on their race by means of share schemes,” Van der Bijl said.
Solidarity started a go-slow at Sasol last Monday because of the company’s employee share scheme, Khanyisa, that excludes white employees. It is the first time in the history of South Africa that white employees go on strike because of racial exclusion.
“Sasol has caused the transformation pendulum to swing too far. Sasol’s policy now has developed into a purely racial policy of exclusion. What the Sasol workers are doing is making history. They are bringing balance back into the transformation debate in South Africa,” said Dr Dirk Hermann, chief executive of Solidarity.
Nedlac’s legal representative during his argument alleged that Solidarity’s application was not urgent because the schemes are nothing new in South Africa. “This application by Solidarity could have been brought two or three years ago. Why are they bringing the application now? Why is it now urgent? We argue that the employee schemes were announced several years ago. It is nothing new. We do not understand the urgency,” argued Adv. Relleng Masipa.
Meanwhile, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has written to Solidarity and Sasol offering assistance to defuse the Solidarity strike at Sasol. This was done in terms of section 150 of the Labour Relations Act. Solidarity has formally notified the CCMA that the union would take part in the process.
According to the letter, the CCMA would designate a special commissioner to assist the parties. The CCMA also said it had an excellent record with regard to defusing disputes by means of the section 150 process.
“The frustration over racial exclusion is bigger than Sasol. The Sasol workers symbolise something that is experienced by many members of Solidarity. This is why we are planning a huge strike in support of Sasol members and against racial exclusion. It is going to be a historic protest by a voice that is never heard. The date will be fixed only after the court and Nedlac processes have been completed,” Hermann said.
Judge Leicester Adams reserved judgment in the matter until Friday, 14 September.
In an earlier open letter to the heads of Sasol, Steve Cornelle and Bongani Nqwababa, Hermann wrote that they should not ignore the voice of their workers. “No democracy or employer should allow any part of its society or labour force to be alienated in this way. The real test of a democracy is whether it is also protecting its minorities.
“What we have seen at your plants is a democracy operating and growing. It was a historic moment, but also a historic opportunity. If this is going to be ignored, we will have denied our democracy an opportunity. The voice of the white workers is a voice for balance. It is not a voice against the restoration of imbalance, but for the restoration of balance. If Sasol’s reply to exclusion of the past is a simplistic exclusion in the future, it will put South Africa on a shaky moral base for the future,” Hermann wrote.
Stand with the Sasol strikers and go to https://solidariteit.co.za/steun-sasol-stakers/ to show your support.