Illegal intimidation tactics used in SA strikes

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Strikes in South Africa are often characterized by intimidation, violence and the destruction of property. Every employee has the right to strike, but does that right extend to extreme and illegal action?


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With police adopting a hands-off approach to strikes in South Africa, industrial action has morphed into a violent and dangerous activity. Illegal tactics are increasingly being used by participants to get their message across, tactics that have raised a number of concerns amongst those seeking to reach a concensus.
Problem
The Constitution gives every employee the right to strike and to protest but these rights do not extend to damaging property and assaulting or killing people with different views. Most strikes in South Africa are marred by intimidation, violence and destruction of property. It is high time Government (in its own best interests) took steps to reverse this trend, especially in the light of the tragedy at the Marikana Mine.
While some people may argue that sticks are traditional weapons, strikers walking around with sticks and other weapons when tensions are high represents a serious threat to law and order.
Unfortunately in recent years police have adopted a largely "hands-off? approach to strikes. This has resulted in the escalation of violence so that deaths during strikes have become commonplace. This is not acceptable. People need to be educated that this behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Striking miners staged a protest at the Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, South Africa. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images
Solutions
1. Legislation needs to be amended to make it a crime to carry any form of weapon during a strike or protest action. The penalty for carrying a weapon in these circumstances needs to be severe - R5000 or 1 year imprisonment.
2. Most importantly, the South African Police Services need to ensure that riot police are properly trained and equipped to handle strikes which turn violent. Persons carrying weapons must be arrested and charged.
3. The LRA needs to be amended so that in the event of intimidation, or of people carrying dangerous weapons during a strike, the employer may apply to the Labour Court to have a protected strike declared unlawful (unprotected).
4. Should the Court declare a strike unprotected, the employer may then:
give the union concerned 24 hours? notice to get the employees back to work, failing which an order for damages against the union may be sought from the Court (as is the current situation with unprotected strikes;
give strikers 24 hours? notice that in the event of them not returning to work, they could face dismissal.
5. Should strikers or protesters damage property, the organising union(s) should be held responsible as in the recent City of Cape Town decision.
6. Trade unions which are found to be involved in promoting violence or which are unable to control strikers should be de-registered.
7. Trade unions should be given assistance to develop strike handling training for shop stewards and "marshalls? so they know what is at stake and they ensure that members keep to agreed strike rules.
Bruno Bruniquel
BRUNIQUEL and ASSOCIATES (PTY) LTD

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