Numsa: We will challenge strike ballot rules at Constitutional Court

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa plans to challenge the Department of Labour's decision to make secret ballots compulsory for strikes in the Constitutional Court, it said in a statement on Thursday evening.

"We believe the changes to the Labour Law are nothing more than a further unjustified limitation on the right to strike," Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said.

But not all unions are agreed on this point. Although Numsa has opposed what it calls a "draconian law", another union, UASA, supported it, and has been enforcing this practice for the past three years, the union's Stanford Mazhindu said.

"The new rules will bring an end to wild strikes without member consultations in various industries where union leaders were out to settle personal goals using the union’s name," UASA said earlier on Thursday in a statement on its website.

The new guidelines, passed in 2018, came into effect as amendments to the Labour Relations Act on January 1, 2019. The unions had about eight months thereafter to be compliant with the new balloting system. Now, when a strike is being considered, the members must have access to means to cast a ballot.

Bloomberg previously reported that the idea of workers having to back a strike through secret ballot before it can take place, came up during the five-month long strike in the platinum sector in 2014. According to Bloomberg, one mining boss called for such ballots to increase transparency regarding protest actions.

'Tampering' with rights

Numsa views strike balloting as a means to "secure a pool of cheap labour which can easily be exploited with extremely low pay". Jim said the practice limits the right to strike and erodes the power of the working class to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

"We reject attempts by the government and the Department of Labour to tamper with the constitutional right to strike.

"The introduction of compulsory secret balloting before a strike is nothing else but an imposition on the limitation on the right to strike. We are calling on the government to stop this vicious attack against workers," he said.

"These rules are a bureaucratic way to silence the power of the working class. They are designed to frustrate workers by lengthening the time it takes for workers to make a decision to strike and to place cumbersome and costly obligations on unions with a view on effectively undermining effective strike action," he added.

- This story was compiled by Lameez Omarjee and Khulekani Magubane of Fin24, and includes additional reporting by Bloomberg's Paul Burkhardt. 

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