Bank strike hangs in balance

The SA Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) union is protesting against job losses and retrenchments, while union federation Cosatu intends holding national protest action against job losses and retrenchments in October.
The SA Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) union is protesting against job losses and retrenchments, while union federation Cosatu intends holding national protest action against job losses and retrenchments in October.

It will only be known later on Thursday if a planned strike that threatens to shut down the country’s banking sector will go ahead on Friday.

The SA Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) union is protesting against job losses and retrenchments, while union federation Cosatu intends holding national protest action against job losses and retrenchments in October.

Labour Court judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker is expected to hand down her ruling on the legality of the strike, called by Sasbo and its parent Cosatu, at 10am.

Lawyers representing Business Unity SA (Busa), Cosatu and Sasbo battled it out in court on Wednesday in their bid to convince Rabkin-Naicker to rule in their favour.

Busa wants to stop more than 5,000 members of Sasbo from going ahead with their planned action on Friday.

The main focus of arguments on Wednesday was the Labour Relations Act’s section 77, which deals with protected protest action.

This was issued to Cosatu by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in 2017, but it was never enforced.

Advocate Alistair Franklin, representing Busa, submitted that the notice could not be relied on in 2019.

He argued that it was never the intention of the legislation to be put on ice, then “dusted off years later” to be enforced.

He said the protest – which would be “very disruptive and damaging to SA” – would be in breach of section 77 should it go ahead, and questioned why no action had been taken by the respondents in the interim to enforce the notice.

However, advocate Daniel Berger, for Cosatu, argued that the section 77 notice issued in 2017 remained valid.

The issues raised in 2017 were still prevalent in 2019.

He said “waves upon waves” of retrenchments were still going on unabated, while CEOs took home hefty salaries and bonuses.

“Nothing’s changed. “These issues remain pressing and have only gotten

worse.

“Busa said Cosatu can’t put the section 77 notice in its pocket and pull it out when it wants to.

“Why should that [notice] go stale? It remains valid as long as the issues it raises remain current.”

Berger also differentiated between protest action and a strike, saying protests did not deal with issues of mutual interest but with socioeconomic issues and policy matters that took much longer to resolve.

“Strikes are channelled through the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

“Protest action, on the other hand, is channelled through Nedlac.”

Busa has said the planned protest action will not help address the realities affecting the banking industry and “will further burden the economy and deter investment”.

The SA Reserve Bank predicts economic growth of only 0.6% for 2019 and less than 2% through to 2021.

Busa said SA banks were aware of the country’s high unemployment rate, which jumped from 27.6% to 29% in the second quarter.

It said banks were expected to operate as usual on Friday, but in case of any disruptions at branches, customers should use digital banking services.

The SA Revenue Service said that in the unlikely event of the protest action going ahead, contingency plans were in place to mitigate any negative effects on taxpayers and traders. 

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