Union at Tiso Blackstar plans go-slow and strike over pay, bonuses

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A union with members at media group Tiso Blackstar said on Wednesday that its estimated 200 members plan to embark on various forms of industrial action from March 14 over what they say is poor pay, among other things.

Moeketse Lepheana, the president of the SAFTU-affiliated Information Communication and Technology Union (ICTU), told Fin24 the union plans to serve Tiso with a strike notice later on Wednesday. 

This after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) issued a certificate of non-resolution on Monday saying the dispute between the union and the company remained unresolved. 

The Tiso Blackstar group contains a number of SA newspapers, including the Sunday Times, the Financial Mail and Business Day, as well as the Sowetan, among others.  

Lepheana said the "plus minus" 200 members of the ICTU were a mix of journalists and other staff. He said while he was not certain of the overall number of employees at Tiso, he believed this was between 2900 and 4 000.

Before the "full-blown strike" starts, he said staff would embark on go-slow and "work to rule" actions. He said he hoped the go-slow and the work to rule actions would mean the strike would no longer be necessary.

Lepheane said the strike would be aimed at putting an end to the freeze on wage increases as well as the way in which bonuses were paid. Lepheane said the company should share its profits more equally with workers. 

Andy Gill, the managing director of the Tiso Blackstar Group, confirmed the ICTU approached the CCMA with a dispute concerning the non payment of bonuses to staff.

"The company did in fact award bonuses to those divisions that met the criteria as well as award discretionary bonuses to top performers. The CCMA conciliated the matter and issued a certificate of non resolution. The union has yet to issue a notice to strike.  We remain committed to constructively engage with our employees on this and any other matter that may arise," he said in a statement. 

It is understood that the union and Tiso Blackstar management will return to the CCMA over the issue of organisational rights at the company and whether Tiso Blackstar must recognise the union. 

'External resources' 

Meanwhile in an internal email sent to all staff on Tuesday, which was leaked to News24, Gill said the company respected the right to freedom of association and the right to strike.

However, he added, "To ensure operational continuity, the company will consider employing external resources should the strike action necessitate such measures.

"If a strike notice is issued, the company will apply the no work, no pay principle to all employees who participate in the strike. You will need to pay your monthly contributions to the medical aid and pension/provident fund in the event of any shortfall resulting from a prolonged strike period," the email stated.

Paid annual leave will only be approved in "exceptional circumstances during the strike", unless it was already applied for and approved in advance.

"Management reserves the right to decline or/and cancel annual leave. Medical certificates shall be required for sick leave taken during the strike, and the company will investigate any suspicious sick leave taken and doctor's notes."

Gill said that if the strike continued, demonstrators "may not wear masks or have any dangerous weapons or objects in their possession".

"Failure to adhere to these rules may result in disciplinary, criminal and other actions".

Records demanded

In a memorandum sent to management in early February, some of the group's employees demanded to have access to the company's financial records and information related to how the decision to freeze salary increases was made.

The workers, in the memorandum, also asked if "management will also be subjected to the freezing of salaries...and if they had received bonuses in the past financial year," the memo read.

"We reject the reasons given by management for this blatantly inhumane decision and demand clarity," the letter continued.

But, in the email to staff, Gill said "the decision to freeze salary increases was based entirely on performance". 

"Our industry is facing fundamental change and our competitors are undergoing significant restructuring that will result in large declines in their staff levels".

Update: This article was updated to reflect that the date for the commencement of industrial action is March 14, and not March 28. 

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