Labour department appeals ruling to register Simunye Workers Forum’s as a trade union

The forum says that the registrar of labour relations's appeal is a waste of public money. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

The registrar of labour relations says the Simunye Workers Forum does not meet the Labour Relations Act requirements to register as a union.

The registrar of labour relations will be appealing the labour court’s decision to register the Simunye Workers Forum (SWF) as a trade union. This comes after a ruling delivered by Judge Andre van Niekerk, on the 22nd of June, in which he ordered that the registrar, Lehlohonolo Molefe, register SWF as a union and issue a certificate within 14 days. 

According to the court’s findings, the forum’s constitution complies with the requirements of a trade union and that it is independent of any employer or employer’s organisation. “The emergence of trade unions that eschew traditional structures is inevitable. Since the LRA was brought into operation in 1995, the labour market has changed radically. Workforces, once homogeneous, have fragmented and segmented into core and marginal groups where new, less secure forms of work have emerged. New forms of worker organisations will inevitably emerge to meet these challenges and better serve the interests of the more vulnerable,” said van Niekerk.

The trade union was set to be registered by the 12th of July 2023. “We were supposed to receive our registration certificate on the 12th, but instead we got a letter saying the registrar of labour relations will be contesting the labour court’s decision to have us registered,” said Vuyelwa Magidela, a member of SWF.

Since the labour court’s ruling in favour of the SWF, hundreds of casualised workers are said to have been sending in membership forms to join the SWF.

The registrar still insists that he will only register trade unions that have office bearers that are elected for long terms of office. According to a joint press statement released by SWF and the Casual Workers’ Advice Office (CWAO), this is not an essential feature of an effective union and the SWF purposefully decided not to have positions such as general secretary, president, and deputy president. There is, however, a standing committee which takes minutes of all meetings, keeps a register and controls membership fees and the spending of those fees.

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The registrar is also refusing to recognise SWF as a union because CWAO helped establish it, which according to him, makes the SWF not independent. “This [is] despite the rampant corruption that has taken place in so many unions as a result of national office bearers taking control of union bank accounts, some of which had built up hundreds of millions of rands in reserves since they formed in the late 1980s,” reads the joint statement.

The statement also quotes Judge van Niekerk’s ruling: “The registrar is not the gatekeeper for traditional forms of trade union organisations, nor is it his function to question the wisdom of the SWF’s choices.”

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