Editorials 30.3.2016 09:00 am

The right to strike has its limits

Protesters looted and barricaded roads during the Zandspruit informal settlement violent protests on March 16, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The protests were reportedly sparked by Eskom unexpectedly cutting connection in the area. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Denzil Maregele)

Protesters looted and barricaded roads during the Zandspruit informal settlement violent protests on March 16, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The protests were reportedly sparked by Eskom unexpectedly cutting connection in the area. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Denzil Maregele)

Virtually every strike in this country is marred by violence, intimidation and destruction of property.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of industrial action, with strikes among the most violent in the world. Labour-related protests have been so violent that workers who chose not to join have lost their lives.

The highest number of fatalities related to labour disputes was in 2012, when 45 people were killed and hundreds others were injured in Marikana during a strike at Lonmin. Like all work stoppages in SA, the ongoing unprotected strike by Pikitup workers has been characterised by violence, intimidation, vandalism and lawlessness.

The company’s employees, members of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu), have emptied rubbish bins in the city and surrounding areas. This dangerous behaviour poses a serious health hazard to the residents. Dozens of Pikitup workers have been arrested since the beginning of the strike, ongoing now for nearly a month and has forced the City of Joburg to employ private contractors at R1 million a day to remove refuse.

Samwu, whose members have ignored two court interdicts and ultimatums to return to work, say they won’t go back to work until their salary hike demands have been met. One reason behind the anarchy of protests and workers’ strikes is a lack of punishment for perpetrators.

Despite evidence, including witnesses, videos and pictures, strike-related crimes often fail to result in prosecution. And in rare instances where culprits are nabbed, cases are thrown out by courts due to “lack of evidence”.

Like other freedoms, the right to strike is guaranteed by our constitution. But this right does not go without responsibility and accountability, and is not without limits or conditions.

 

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