Jul 3,2013 / News / Legal Brief

ISSUE IN DISPUTE

In instances where an interim order is obtained by an employer preventing unlawful strikers from continuing with their unlawful strike and to desist from committing misconduct and criminal actions such as threatening, assaulting and intimidating non-striking employees, carrying weapons, blocking access roads and failing to maintain a designated distance from the employer’s premises, the employees doing so and their trade union can be held in contempt of court if they fail to adhere to the provisions of the interim order. What is important is the recognition that a juncture has been reached in our labour dispensation where trade unions simply cannot wash their hands of their members’ conduct. To the extent that their members continue to breach the terms of the court order they are obliged to intervene in an attempt to prevent such contemptuous action. Failure to do so could result in them also being held liable.

COURT’S DECISION

In the recent case of In2FOOD (Pty) Ltd v FAWU, Madisha, RS and 470 Others (LC Case J350/13) the employer, In2Foods (Pty) Ltd, was faced with a situation where an interim order granted by the Johannesburg Labour Court preventing the unlawful strike action of its employees was ignored by both the Food and Allied Workers Union (“FAWU”) and its members who were employed by In2Foods and were on strike.

When the striking employees refused to comply with the court order, a further interim order was obtained by the employer directing both the striking employees and FAWU to show cause why they should not be held in contempt.  Upon the matter being heard Judge Steenkamp upheld the interim order, holding the employees (who could be identified as having committed acts of misconduct) as well as FAWU, liable for contempt of court.  In holding FAWU liable the court recognized that while employees had a right to engage in collective bargaining this right was dependent upon compliance with the provisions of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995, (as amended).  There is no justification or place in collective bargaining for violent action. Nor is there place to allow trade unions and officials to abdicate their duty to take sufficient steps to dissuade and prevent their members from continuing with their violent and unlawful actions.

FAWU was handed a fine of R500 000 (five hundred thousand rand) for being in contempt of court.

IMPORTANCE OF THE CASE

This case highlights the Labour Court’s willingness to take strong action against employees who engage in unlawful strikes and trade unions who do nothing to prevent their members conduct. This judgment reiterates the requirement that all parties comply with the law when engaging in industrial action.