MTN takes union to labour court

Johannesburg - MTN says it has taken the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to the Johannesburg Labour Court for allegedly blocking entrances to the company’s offices and intimidating staff.

MTN South Africa’s chief human resources officer, Themba Nyathi, told Fin24 that the company’s court interdict against the union had been heard on Friday midday.

The court action comes as call centre and franchise staff have taken to the streets this week to demand that MTN hikes their annual salary increase by 10% and pays them a bonus of 16% of their annual salaries.

The legal strike reached its high point on Wednesday when CWU members addressed striking workers outside MTN’s Johannesburg head office.

Discussions about the salary increases are ongoing, but MTN says in the meantime it has launched the court action in the Labour Court in Braamfontein.

“Yesterday we went to court to secure interim relief against CWU - that is for deviating from the agreed picketing rules and the like,” Nyathi told Fin24.

"They are blocking entrances forcefully using rocks and we recorded this. We've reported incidents to the police. Yesterday, one of our general managers was assaulted with knobkierries outside.

"These are some of the things that we're saying: Lots of people in this country died for the right to be represented by unions and lots of people died in this country for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. So, we expect the union to respect that going forward,” Nyathi said.

Nyathi said that the court action is only aimed at getting CWU to “abide by its own picketing rules” and that it is a separate issue to dealing with the issue of the pay hikes.

“That’s all that we want,” Nyathi told Fin24.

"All that we are saying is that CWU must stick to what they have signed," Nyathi added.


Nyathi has further said that there is an over 90% turnout of workers to work and that operations are running as normal despite the ongoing strike.

Discussions between CWU and MTN regarding the requested pay rises are also still ongoing but sticking points exist.

Nyathi said MTN wants to appoint an independent arbitrator regarding the workers’ requests but that CWU is allegedly refusing this.

Nyathi has also challenged claims that it traditionally paid the likes of its call centre workers in SA a bonus of 16% of their annual salaries. MTN also says that its entry level call centre workers received a bonus of 4% despite bonuses not being declared this year by the company, including in some of its other operations in Africa.

Nyathi further said that MTN promised the striking SA workers an 8% bonus in light but that the union rejected this.

"A salary increase of an employee is determined by the score that they get on their performance management system, period,” Nyathi told Fin24.

Questions over who is really on strike

Meanwhile, MTN is maintaining that CWU does not meet the 30% threshold for it to be recognised as a union.

Nyathi told Fin24 that CWU only meets a 19% representation level at the company.

In addition, Nyathi told Fin24 that most of the striking workers are from outsourced companies that operate call centres and franchises for MTN.

"The 19% that they have, it's predominantly in the call centres and we're talking about entry level staff that are outsourced.

"Most of our call centres are outsourced and that's where the bulk of their membership sits," Nyathi said.

Nyathi, though, was not willing to name these outsourced companies or say how the strike has impacted their operations.

CWU president Clyde Mervin has not responded to Fin24's request for comment at the time of writing.

In the meantime, MTN is also sticking to its 'no work, no pay' policy regarding the strike and it’s unclear when an agreement with the union could be reached.

“And the union has signed on 'no work, no pay',” Nyathi said.

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