Proposed amendments to the Labour relations Act (“LRA”), 1995, were introduced in Parliament on 18 February 2015 in a draft Bill to be considered by the National Assembly. On 20 May 2015, Parliament’s Labour Committee rejected the Bill.
The Bill sought to provide for the accountability of trade unions for the cost of strike–related violence and strike-related damage to property. The proposed amendment to section 68A placed a duty on trade unions to limit the harm that could be caused by collective action. The Bill also proposed to empower the Labour Court to compel arbitration proceedings where strikes become violent and to declare the cessation of / end to a protected strike.
Members of Parliament's Labour Committee voted against the adoption of the Bill arguing that it lead to a duplication of certain provisions provided for in section 11 (1) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, 1993, and could also potentially obstruct deliberations taking place in the National Economic Development Forum (NEDLAC). Certain regulations within the Regulation of Gatherings Act cover damage and violence during strikes. The Constitutional Court has previously confirmed in the case of South African Transport and Allied Workers Union and Another v Garvas and Others that the organisers of marches can be held liable in terms of the provisions of the Regulation of Gatherings Act for damages caused. The Court found that section 11 was aimed at restricting unlawful, violent behaviour that violated the rights of others and ensured that organisers of those gatherings are held liable.
The MP who put the Bill forward, Mr Ian Ollis, argued that the existing legislation does not cover all of the circumstances related to strikes and that the Bill could prevent the need to go to Court in order to be awarded compensation for strike related damage.
Employers will need to remain reliant on the outcome of the NEDLAC proceedings and the precedent set in the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union case when pursuing compensation for strike related damages. It is noteworthy to mention that the Labour Court recently awarded over a million rand in damages to a bus company after it experienced an unprotected strike, citing that the trade union did not do enough to persuade its members to return to normal work or to comply with the LRA. Both the trade unions and the members were ordered to make monthly contributions to offset the damages awarded.