R1 Million Fine for Striking Workers in Contempt of Court

R1 Million Fine for Striking Workers in Contempt of Court

Human Resources, Legislation

Editor: This is a landmark ruling and reflects a very pragmatic approach by the Labour Court to reclaim some sense of discipline in strike action by employees.

In a recent Labour Court ruling (Betafence South Africa (Pty) Ltd v NUMSA & Others (C194/2016) [2016] ZALCCT 33) the Court took a ground breaking position and fined striking employees for contempt of court.

In this case, Betafence and NUMSA agreed to the terms of a Court order which suspended a strike with immediate effect and time-limits were agreed for both parties to file affidavits in the Labour Court application. Despite this court order, employees continued striking. Betafence applied to the Court and the Court found the striking workers themselves (not the union) to be in contempt of court.

In their ruling the Court concluded:

“An observation that needs to be made in this Court is that employees, especially in the face of strike interdicts, routinely disregard the orders of this court for no reason other than that they simply do not like them. This contemptuous approach towards orders of this court is in some or most instances, aggravated and/or encouraged by Unions, their officials and/or shop stewards. In some instances, as in this case, employees refuse to even heed the advice of their union representatives and leaders. In the latter instance, and where unions even confirm in papers before the court that employees have indeed refused to heed court orders, the invariable conclusion to be reached is that the non-compliance by the employees was indeed both wilful and mala fide.”

“This level of contempt has reached a point where if unchecked, the rule of law will become meaningless. In the end, anarchy and mayhem, which normally characterises most industrial actions we have witnessed, will become the new normal. This cannot bode well for our constitutional democracy, and only a stern approach by the courts can stop this slippery slope.”