South Africa: CCMA's Attempt to Restrain Socacof Overturned

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration has dropped its bid to deter a small activist organisation from aiding vulnerable workers in the security services sector.

A small community organisation that supports security guards who are being exploited has scored a legal victory against the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), getting an interdict imposed on them overturned. The interdict would have prevented the Southern Cape Community Forum (Socacof) from coming within 200m of the CCMA's office in George, Western Cape, or representing workers there.

On 30 June, the CCMA secured an interim interdict in the high court in Cape Town against the George-based forum and its leaders, general secretary Bathandwa Arries and spokesperson Petros Mapapa. The CCMA alleged that the trio had threatened "to commit acts of violence" against it.

Caren-Lee Small, managing commissioner of the CCMA's office in George, said in an affidavit that the forum had spent the past four years swearing at staff, threatening to burn down the office, "entering hearings with the intent to disrupt proceedings" and "making unsubstantiated accusations of corruption" against the CCMA and its local commissioner.

Small objected to the forum asking for "an investigation into the alleged dishonest conduct" of the CCMA and threatening in a letter to "embark on a violent protest before the George CCMA office [on 30 June], because enough is enough".

Even though a subsequent letter from the forum repeatedly stated that the 30 June march would be peaceful, Small said the CCMA could not "disregard the threat of violence" made in the earlier letter.

The CCMA also referred to two letters sent by Arries. The first was to the Department of Labour and a security services company called Recall Southern Cape in January this year. In the letter, Arries wrote that he would "burn every property" of the company. Arries sent the other letter to the police, saying that the forum would attack vehicles of the security company "as a way of protesting against non-compliance".

"It is apparent from the attached correspondence that the respondents have a propensity for violence," Small wrote.

However, the CCMA dropped its bid for a permanent interdict after being told that the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO), an organisation that provides legal advice to precarious workers, had hired renowned Cape Town labour advocate Suzanna Harvey to defend the forum.

A long battle with the CCMA

A new court order was issued confirming that the interim interdict was discharged and there would be no cost order against the forum. It states that Arries is still interdicted from issuing threats or committing acts of violence or intimidation against the CCMA.

The forum's leaders are all former security guards. They represent dozens of security guards who do not belong to any union at the CCMA in George every year.

New Frame earlier reported that the forum has battled for the past five years to get the CCMA and the Department of Labour to protect them from security companies which do not comply with labour laws.

Guards from several companies complained of being fired without warning by text message, and having Unemployment Insurance Fund and Private Security Sector Provident Fund contributions deducted by their employers but never paid over to these funds.

They also claimed that their employers deducted money for uniforms, even though regulations for the security sector say uniforms up to an amount of R1 500 must be provided for free. They also claimed they had to patrol outside at night for 12 hours without access to a guard house, toilet facilities, wet-weather clothing or any kind of protective weapons.

Bullying tactics

Mapapa welcomed the CWAO's victory against the CCMA. He said the forum is determined to continue representing security guards at the commission and that it would contemplate its own court action against the CCMA if it did not give dismissed security guards a fair hearing.

CWAO spokesperson Lynford Dor said: "The interim order granted by the court was quite shocking. The order was a complete violation of the Socacof members' constitutional rights to access the CCMA, which was particularly serious because they are one of the only organisations that assist workers in George."

The forum has no funding and, like many social movements and grassroots organisations, was unable to hire a legal team to defend it against the interim interdict. Dor said the interim interdict "was really just a way for the CCMA to use money to bully the Socacof".

"The generalised use of interdicts closes democratic spaces for struggle, criminalising those who look to access their constitutional rights to protest. Our experience is that workers are routinely interdicted from picketing or demonstrating outside of their company gates during a strike.

"This effectively renders an integral element of the strike illegal, and in the process criminalises workers who are simply trying to access their constitutional right to strike. In this example, the CCMA appears to be replicating the bosses' tactics of targeting grassroots organisations, with the knowledge that they are not in a financial position to fight such orders, in order to permanently prevent any form of protest at all," Dor added.

CCMA director Cameron Morajane would not comment on the interdict going against them. Morajane would only say, "We can confirm that as per our request that the honourable court had granted an order of restraint against Mr Arries".

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