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SAFTU Condemns in the strongest terms the deregistration of its affiliate – DEMAWUSA

SAFTU is disgusted and angered by the Department of Labour Register who is seemingly targeting SAFTU unions for deregistration on the flimsiest of excuses. We have no doubt that this forms part of a well-orchestrated campaign by the government to attack the constitutionally and ILO Convention No. 87 of 1948 that guarantee the right of workers to associate. This forms part of an illegal and illegitimate campaign to prop up sweetheart unions the government is in alliance with.

In the latest attack, the office of the Register has targeted one of our unions organising in the municipal sector. A union was sent a notice received on Friday 30th January 2020. The notice indicates that the Union has been de-registered for a failure to comply with Sections 99 and 100 of the LRA in relation firstly, to the finances of the Union and secondly on the conduct of ballots for industrial action. We wish to deal with both reasons to show workers here and in the world what the new independent, militant and campaigning unions are facing in our country.

DEMAWUSA submitted a letter to the Department of Labour on the 04 December 2019 requesting an extension to submit the audited statements on the 30 April. On the same day DEMAWUSA submitted an audit for the period 2015 and 2018. Both of these presentations were acknowledged by the office of the Registrar.
It was explained that with an office move, and changes in the leadership, financial records for a particular period needed to be reassembled and that this would take extra time. The understanding of the Union is that an extension for finalizing financial matters was granted until 30th April 2020. In fact, the financial reports are now in a position to be presented.

The treatment that is meted out to SAFTU unions for what are minor infringements when compared to the leniency which COSATU unions experience is disturbingly obvious. Several COSATU unions have not submitted accounts for years and years, have been found by the authorities to have been thoroughly corrupt, and to have infringed their own constitutions repeatedly by disregarding for years in some cases, meetings of their own structures. Have these unions been called to account by the Registrar and action taken to address their failings? This can only be regarded as political favouritism, and comparisons will be used to show unequal treatment to both the courts and the ILO.

It is therefore shocking but not surprising that the Department chose to deregister a union without even indicating that the extension was not accepted for whatever the reasons.
While we are pleased that the Registrar has now agreed to meet the leadership of DEMAWUSA, SAFTU will still raise this matter sharply with the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi and will list it as evidence to the ILO as part of our complaint that the Government is hellbent on undermining the country’s constitution and ILO Convention 84 on freedom of association.
Everywhere in the government’s departments and in the state owned enterprises, SAFTU unions are facing daunting challenges and attacks of this type to undermine their growth, while consciously assisting sweetheart unions to remain relevant, when there is mounting evidence that workers are deserting them en masse. These shenanigans include:

1. Using bureaucratic maneuvers to refuse to process resignation forms of workers resigning from sweetheart unions
2. Using bureaucratic maneuvers to refuse to deduct union dues from workers who resign from sweetheart unions to then reinstate deductions a few months later to the very unions from which workers have resigned.
3. Using the agency fee in the most reactionary way to punish workers who are resigning from sweetheart unions through double deductions – i.e. by deducting both the agency fee and the dues of the union the workers have chosen to join. This weapon has forced workers to resign from our unions and to rejoin the sweetheart unions as they seem to hold all the cards. One of our unions MATUSA with the support of DEMAWUSA have lodged a High Court challenge against this practise. SAFTU will also join as a friend of court.
4. On some occasions, in particular at the insistence of SALGA, local government have been instructed not to even allow workers to be represented by unions of their choice in disciplinary hearings. This is also blatantly unconstitutional and this too will be challenge in Court and reported to the ILO as an infringement of its Conventions.
5. Increasing of the threshold of the bargaining councils in order to make it very difficult for startup unions to gain access to important bargaining forums. Meanwhile agreements hostile to the interests of workers are signed behind their backs. When start up unions are removed from bargaining structures, what follows is that instructions to Treasury are made to stop the deduction of union dues. This is a deliberate attempt to force workers back to the sweetheart unions.
All these desperate measures are reminiscent of the darkest days of apartheid. They failed then to stop the rise of what used to be democratic and fighting unions, they will fail now to stop the growth of independent, campaigning and democratic unions.

The Guidelines for Balloting
As part of the political onslaught to stop the growth of independent, militant and democratic unions, the employers succeeded in cajoling NEDLAC to pass amendments the bosses have been campaigning for over decades. Amendments were pioneered in parliament that now place an obligation on all unions to amend their constitutions in order to allow for a secret ballot. The law provides that if the union members do not comply with what is essentially their bosses’ insistence to change their constitutions, the unions must be deregistered.

DEMAWUSA is the first union to be deregistered using this provision. SAFTU regards this draconian measure as serious attack on workers right to strike or take industrial action. Its aim is to disarm the workers and render their membership to unions useless.
Already we are taking legal action through the courts to oppose this blatant attempt to take workers only weapon to defend their living standards, which is the right to withdraw their labour.

In addition to this, the SAFTU Inaugural Central Committee has already announced that 2020 will be a year of mass mobilisation against these amendments, the grinding and dehumanizing levels of poverty, record breaking unemployment rates, world record beating inequalities, high rates of crime and the collapse of the judicial system, dysfunctional public education and health care, etc.

The deregistration of DEMAWUSA should strengthen the resolve of all our members to defend the right of their unions to exist and independent, campaigning and democratic unions instead of being reduced into toothless associations that will be at the mercy of ruthless bosses in alliance with the ruling party.