Court reinstates contract workers punished for approaching CCMA

Employer had blocked their access cards

By Tania Broughton

11 February 2021

The Labour Court has reinstated five contract cleaning workers who were suspended after they joined other workers seeking permanent jobs at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Five contract workers at an Emalahleni mine, who were suspended from work because they joined other workers seeking permanent jobs at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, have been reinstated.

Labour Court Judge Andre Van Niekerk has ruled that the company which employed them, cleaning contractor Sno Aluhle Projects and Services, acted unlawfully in blocking their access cards to the Kriel Colliery, effectively preventing them from working and earning.

The dispute between the company and the workers, Simphiwe Maseko, Bangile Ngcobo, Suzy Sibiye, Nomfanelo Zothane and Hanesworth Makile, began in December last year when they and two others joined more than 300 other contract workers at the mine in applying to the CCMA for their jobs to be made permanent.

In January, management of Sno Aluhle Projects and Services presented them with letters, which they were asked to sign, withdrawing from the CCMA dispute saying “I had no knowledge of what I was signing for, I was misinformed”.

They refused to sign and the following Monday when they arrived at the mine, their clock cards were blocked and they were denied access.

The union representative said he had been informed of the situation but had only arranged for access to be restored for two shop stewards.

The workers went to the human resources manager who gave them letters advising them of their suspension and notifying them of a disciplinary hearing. The letters referred to the CCMA dispute.

The workers approached the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO). Spokesperson Lynford Dor told GroundUp the office had written to the company demanding that they be reinstated but this had been ignored.

“We then launched the Labour Court application. While two CWAO officials personally took the court papers to the company’s office, two senior managers refused to sign for them so they had to leave them on a directors table telling her ‘she had been served’.”

The company then missed the deadline for filing its papers.

Just before the matter was to be called, the company filed a written submission claiming for the first time that the workers had been suspended for “sharing company information with third parties”.

In his written judgment, Judge van Niekerk rejected this as being “improbable”. He said the letter of suspension made no reference to this and suggested that the real reason for the suspension was related to the CCMA action.

“This much is corroborated by the terms of the letter that the individual applicants were requested to, but refused to sign.”

He directed the company to reactivate the workers’ access cards and permit them to continue working. He interdicted the company from taking any disciplinary action against them.