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Labour relations registrar in court for alleged refusal to list workers forum as union

Publication: News24
Author: Noxolo Majavu

Casual workers' association Simunye Workers Forum (SWF) has launched a case against the registrar of labour relations, Lehlohonolo Molefe, for the alleged refusal to register it as a trade union.

The forum, which protested outside the offices of the Johannesburg labour court on Wednesday, comprises 6600 members and organises casual members. It also collects membership fees and seeks to represent members at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

"The registrar of labour relations says the SWF is not a genuine union because it does not have office bearer positions. The SWF consciously resolved not to have positions such as general secretary, president and deputy president. Instead, it has a standing committee, which takes minutes of all meetings, keeps an attendance register, and controls the collection and spending of membership fees, "said SWF spokesperson Lawrence Madonsela.

Another reason the registrar has refused to recognise SWF as a union is that the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) helped establish it, and, therefore, the SWF is not independent.

Madonsela argues: "This is not unusual in South African labour history. The General Workers Union grew out of the Western Province Advice Bureau in Cape Town. The Metal and Allied Workers Union (later Numsa) grew out of the Industrial Aid Society, and the Combined Small Factory Workers Union grew out of the Alexandra Workers Advice Office. There are many non-profit labour service organisations like the CWAO who still partner with unions today to do research, education and other work as requested by the union. "

City Press reached out to the labour relations office but did not get any comment at the time of publication.

SWF insists it has included a clause of its independence in its 2016 constitution that it is independent of the CWAO but shares a relationship with it based on common principles and values.

"The impact of the registrar 's refusal to register SWF as a union is severe. It leaves thousands of casual workers without any representation in the CCMA or bargaining councils. It means that bosses can continue to refuse to negotiate any aspect of working conditions with the SWF (on the grounds that it is not a union), " said SWF in a statement.

WF conceded that the Constitutional Court confirmed in 2018 that the client company should be the sole employer of labour broker workers that are placed for more than three months.

"But even this judgment from the apex court did not help casual workers to claim their legal right to be permanent because, again, employers refused to comply and continued to hire workers on a casual basis."

One of the founding members of SWF, Vuyelwa Magidela, told City Press:

When Simunye members tried to talk to their bosses, they were told that because they are not a registered union, the bosses do not need to recognise them, and they won ' t talk to them.

The forum has previously succeeded in helping more than 12 500 labour broker workers at companies, including Dis-Chem, Barlow Rand, Kellogg's, Takealot, Simba and Heineken, become permanent employees. But in other workplaces, bosses have simply refused to negotiate with SWF because it is not a registered trade union.

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