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Protest march against police brutality on Blue Ribbon and Dis-Chem strikers

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) Western Cape together with its affiliates Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the National Union of Public Services and Allied Workers union (NUPSAW) will be holding a follow up march to the Cape Town Central Police station to protest against the Police brutality experienced by the workers on strike at Blue Ribbon and Dischem Pharmacies as well as to the department of labour calling for intervention into the ongoing strikes.

NUPSAW and FAWU our members have been engaged in protracted legal strike action against employers (Dischem Pharmacies Ltd and Blue Ribbon for a decent, living wage and right to collective bargaining.

We are deeply concerned about the actions of the police, who are expected to protect both striking workers and the public; in acting in such unbecoming and irresponsible manner against workers on a protected strike.

We are workers with human rights. Our rights as workers are guaranteed in Section 23 of the Constitution. As progressive trade unions, we shall never apologise for standing up for the poor and the working class. We shall never apologise for asserting the constitutional rights of workers to strike. The continued Police brutality impede on the free exercise of trade union rights as enshrine on the constitution.

It is not the function of the police to take any view or position on the merits of the dispute giving rise to a strike. The police have a general duty to uphold the law and may take reasonable measures to keep the peace whether on the picket or march. The police have no responsibility to enforce the Labour Relations Act, their responsibility is to PROTECT.

On 20 December we handed over memorandums to the Police as well as the department of labour setting out the following:

  • We demand that the Minister of Police to intervene and investigate all the reported incidents of police brutality against our members and broader working class. Workers who have been engaging in peaceful protest action in excising their constitutional right to strike.
  • We further, demand that the SAPS and law enforcement agencies to refrain from using excessive force or violence against our members who are on a legal and protected strike.
  • We demand that the Minister of Police to urgently address and investigate all the incidents as reported by the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR).
  • We further demand that the South African government take all measures necessary to adhere to the principles of freedom of association as enshrined in the ILO Fundamental Convention- all of which South Africa has ratified – in order to protect the fundamental rights of workers to freely organise and act in defence of their interests.

And to the minister of labour the following demands were made:

  • We are calling upon the Minister of Labour to decisively intervene on these strikes and direct parties to find an amicable solution, since the employer drew courage from the backwardness of the labour law amendments and the National Minimum Wage.
  • We demand not only must the new labour law amendments be scrapped but instead be looking at ways to change labour laws to extend workers’ rights, especially for the growing number of vulnerable workers in the informal employment, in the face of the increasingly dictatorial power of the employers.
  • We further demand that the Minister direct an order to investigate Dis-Chem Phamarcies’ non-compliance to the Basic Conditions of Employment relating to hours of work, overtime pay and work of Public Holiday as workers throughout the country have complaint about non-compliance.
  • We call on the Minister to engage her colleague, the Minister of Police to speed up investigation of the unprovoked shooting of the 20 Premier Milling and Blue Ribbon Bakery involved in peaceful picketing as police brutality remains unacceptable in a democracy.

We held a fruitful meeting with Rev Chris Nissen the SA Human Rights Commissioner at their offices in Cape Town who facilitated that the memos receive the attention of the relevant ministers.
We have however to date received no response to our memorandums. We have also been met with resistance by the police to register cases of police brutality against workers.
We note that these actions of police are not only confined to strike action but extends to all forms of protest action aimed against the failures of the government to fulfil its duties to its citizens i.e. community protests are met with increased levels of police brutality
Failure to respond to our memorandums will lead to us intensifying our campaign together with community formations to ensure a proper human rights culture is inculcated into the police handling of protest actions to ensure full access to our constitutional right to protest.