DA seeks to hold unions accountable for violent strikes

2010-10-05 11:29

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has submitted a proposal to Parliament to protect the public from violence and intimidation during strikes by unions.

“South Africa has been rocked by serious strike action that has resulted in deaths, acts of violence and intimidation against fellow workers and members of the public, and widespread destruction of property,” party MP George Bainamo said in Cape Town today.

“In many instances, we have also seen union members involved in obstructing the provision of vital public services, particularly those in the public health sector.

“For these reasons, I will be submitting a Private Members’ Legislative Proposal to the Office of the Speaker of Parliament.”

The bill seeks to amend the Labour Relations Act of 1995 and make unions partly responsible for illegal actions during strikes.

The bill proposes that unions take steps to prevent, repair or remedy injury to a person and loss of damage to property caused by strikes; that unions be made responsible for damage, loss or injury as a result of strike actions; and that union responsibility is presumed where there is a loss, damage or injury during strike action.

Courts will be given the power to issue orders, award damages, declare if and when a strike is no longer protected and to refer a dispute to arbitration as though it were a dispute in an essential service.

“The fact is that both union bosses and members know that acts of violence during mass action are difficult for the police to investigate and pinpoint to specific members,” Boinamo said.

“There is little existing disincentive against acts of violence. A law of this kind would incentivise unions and union office bearers to take all reasonable steps to avoid such lawlessness.

“If union bosses agree that strikers must be orderly and peaceful, then they should have no problem signing legislation that seeks to further this aim.”
DA MP Ian Ollis, who helped draft the proposal, said it was important that unions made use of marshals, who could walk and march with protesters.

The marshals could play a role in preventing union members from committing acts of violence.

He compared violent strikers to soccer hooligans who trash stadiums.

“When soccer hooligans trash stadiums in Europe, it is the club that is held liable to remedy the damage and repair the stadiums,” Ollis said.

“Unions need to take action to limit violence. If they do not take steps to stop violence or limit damage to property, they should be held liable for the damage.”

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