Almost a month ago, it was announced that Anglo American Platinum was taking the unprecedented step of suing a trade union (AMCU) for a minimum of R591 million damages for costs associated with protection services overtime, lost production due to non-strikers being prevented from going to work, and damage to property. The case was filed in the Pretoria High Court.
Much has been said and written about this initiative.
Firstly, Amplats is clearly not suing AMCU for the initiation of a protected strike; it is roundly understood that AMCU has met the pre-requisite provisions of the Labour Relations Act, entitling AMCU to proceed on such a protected strike in support of its wage demands.
On the contrary, Amplats has deemed it necessary, and indeed prudent, to seek damages from AMCU for the costs incurred associated with protection services overtime expenses, lost production due to non-strikers being prevented from going to work, and damage to property.
Amplats is perfectly entitled in law to lodge such a claim.
In so doing, it has been surmised in certain quarters, this is merely a bargaining tactic being adopted by Amplats; I think not. An initiative of this nature is of such significance that it is unlikely to have been adopted as a simple negotiating ploy. Besides, Amplats in all likelihood, does not need to resort to a measure of this nature to gain an advantage in the bargaining arena.
Amplats need only continue to reject AMCU wage demands and make compromises as it deems fit, to meet its own bargaining objectives.
My sense is that this initiative on the part of Amplats is a simple, and entirely justified, move to seek legitimate damages for offences allegedly committed by AMCU members, which infringe on the rights of employers, and indeed citizens in general, to the extent that genuine losses are incurred in the course of offences being committed.
Trade unions have, for too long, been immune to the damages inflicted by their members during industrial action.
To draw a comparison, if a passer-by damages one’s motor vehicle or throws a brick through our front window, we may turn a blind eye on the first, or even second, occasion, but when it occurs day in and day out, one has every right to say enough is enough.
Will damages incurred be difficult to prove? Probably. But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean that one need simply “suck it up”.
It’s high time that trade unions fall in line with civilized norms, and ensure that members behave within the bounds of the law.
Picketing rules are frequently ignored, strike marshals are frequently absent or incompetent, strikers committing acts of strike-related misconduct are seldom, if ever, disciplined by unions.
In fact, by and large, striking workers are very often a lawless and thuggish mob.
History tells us that union officials cannot always be relied upon to exercise control over their members during strike activity, and resort to brazen denial of any wrongdoing on cue.
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