Do political parties have a right to demand meetings with employers regarding contractual employer-employee relations or issues concerning consumer interests? Not according to the recent case of Pitsiladi NO and Others v Ngqisha and Others (1504/2018) [2018] ZAECPEHC 41. The judgment considered whether an interdict should be granted following a political party’s protest action, prompted by the employer’s alleged refusal to meet. 

The applicants (and employers) in this case were the trustees of the Athina Trust, which conducts business as a retailer of liquor products under the name and branding of Prestons Liquor Stores (Prestons). The political party had received reports that the Prestons’ workers were being exploited and that the promotional prices of the store were misleading. In response, the political party requested a meeting with Prestons’ management, failing which the political party would occupy Prestons’ stores. Prestons agreed to meet but asked for more information to allow them to prepare. The political party then gathered that the request for a meeting was declined and elected to act on its threat.

On 21 April 2018, approximately 25 people, wearing political party regalia, entered Prestons and disrupted the business operations by preventing access to aisles and tills. According to some members of the Prestons staff, customers felt intimidated. Ultimately, the store closed and Prestons obtained an interim interdict. A similar scenario occurred on 16 June 2018, however, the political party denied any involvement. Again, tills were blocked.

On the return date, the court reiterated the requirements for a final interdict to be granted: “The applicant must establish a clear right; an infringement of that right; an injury actually suffered or a reasonable apprehension of such harm; and that there is no other satisfactory remedy available.”

In considering the matter, the court importantly held that Prestons is under no legal obligation to meet with the political party in relation to the issues “which bear upon contractual employer-employee relations or which bear upon matters affecting consumer interests.”

It was not for the political party to demand a meeting as of right. Employment matters are regulated by the Labour Relations Act, No 66 of 1995 – this legislation recognises trade unions and provides for the appropriate structures and forums in which employee-related disputes and concerns can be discussed and resolved.

The Regulation of Gatherings Act, No 205 of 1993 sets out mechanisms and guidelines for those who wish to enjoy the constitutionally enshrined right to protest. In granting the final interdict, the court acknowledged that political parties may, if they so wish, protest but they are obliged to do so lawfully. What is “not open to political parties, or any person for that matter,” is “to ride roughshod over the established legal process by engaging in unlawful conduct”.