Labour Court reserves judgment in suspension battle that may detour Numsa conference

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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa members demonstrating in Johannesburg.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa members demonstrating in Johannesburg.
Sharon Seretlo/Getty Images/File
  • The Labour Court in Johannesburg reserved judgment in the National Union of Metalworkers suspension dispute until the weekend.
  • Suspended Numsa's second deputy president Ruth Nltokotse wants her suspension lifted or for the union's conference next week to be halted.
  • Labour Court Judge Graham Moshoana reserved judgment on the matter, saying he would issue or make an order during the weekend.
  • Get the biggest business stories emailed to you every weekday, or go to the Fin24 front page.

The Labour Court on Friday reserved judgment in the matter of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) second deputy president Ruth Ntlokotse and the union and its secretary general, Irvin Jim, which will determine whether Numsa will be able to hold its conference next week, as scheduled.

Ntlokotse approached the Labour Court in Johannesburg on an urgent basis this past week to have the court declare her suspension from the union invalid, or halt Numsa's conference from commencing until the nature of her suspension and that of 30 other officials is clarified.

The legal counsel of both sides appeared before the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Friday afternoon to argue in a case that had the potential to affect the union's ability to hold its conference next week. The Numsa conference is set to take place at the Cape Town International Convention Center from 25 July to 29 July.

But Ntlokotse and 30 other Numsa officials believe that their suspensions were aimed at preventing them from attending the conference, participating in it, and contesting for national positions.

Jim said the officials were suspended for misconduct and their claims of being targeted by union membership sought to undermine democratic centralism in the union and collapse the conference.

READ | Over 50 officials banned from Numsa conference as shop steward drama worsens

The key issue argued by lawyers during the Labour Court appearance was whether the suspensions were lawful in terms of the union's constitution.

The Numsa constitution says the regional and national executive committees of the union have the power to "suspend any shop steward ... on sufficient cause shown and take over the management of their affairs until another shop steward or committee is elected".

Lawyers argued whether the Numsa Central Committee acted within its constitutional powers when suspending Ntlokotse and 30 other officials last week.

Labour Court Judge Graham Moshoana reserved judgment, saying he would issue or make an order during the weekend.

READ | Suspended Numsa officials head to court to lift sanctions or halt crucial conference

In May, Ntlokotse was elected president of Numsa's umbrella federation, the South African Federation of Trade Union (Saftu). She says in her affidavit that she planned to run for the position of Numsa president against Mac Chavalala, whom she defeated for the position of Saftu president.

The elective conference set for next week will elect leadership for the largest single union in South Africa, with over 300 000 members in its ranks.

This will also set the tone for the power dynamic at Saftu, with Ntlokotse now working alongside Saftu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi, who is Jim's longtime friend, but disagrees with him on whether the federation should align itself with a political party.

While Jim believes Saftu needs a party as an alliance partner, Vavi believes that Saftu should never sacrifice its independence. These differences were brought to bear at the Saftu conference, where delegates attempted to disrupt the meeting over their differences.

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