Court officials have told of a chaotic Monday at the courts during the first day of the strike by Legal Aid SA lawyers, with cases unheard and postponed.
A court orderly at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court, which had a total of 48 old cases and more than 20 first appearances on the roll, said none of the legal aid lawyers from the Wynberg offices reported for duty.
“The state had no other choice but to request that the matters be postponed. If this is not resolved speedily, it could spell a complete disaster,” the court official, who did not want to be named, said.
The public legal representation agency, which assists about 725,000 people each year, according to its chief executive officer Vidhu Vedalankar, confirmed there were disruptions, with Gauteng the most affected.
Spokesperson Mfanafuthi Shabangu said there were minor disruptions in the flow of cases, particularly in Benoni, Palm Ridge and Randburg Magistrate’s Court.
“The disruptions were minimal because we knew about the strike. Managers of various offices managed to get those who are not on strike to process some cases but many had to be postponed,” he said.
Legal Aid SA said the primary disputes were around the reduction of a limited number of employee benefits due to severe budget shortfalls over the last few years.
“The reduction in these benefits, such as the rightsizing of our Group Life Scheme, was done as a last resort to avoid retrenchment of staff,” national spokesperson Shabangu said.
He said the workers had been engaged regarding the budget constraints and that this problem will be around for a long time as they were facing budgetary cuts of between 5% and 7% in the next three years.
But Michael Motaung, one of the worker representatives, said nothing had been communicated to them.
“They only cut where employees would be affected. There are areas they would not touch, such as procurement. We have also suggested that the agency does away with rented offices and move staff to its own buildings,” he said.
The lawyers are aggrieved by lack of security at their offices, as well as the heavy workload.