16 August 2023
The Johannesburg Labour Court has refused the Registrar of Labour Relations leave to appeal against an order directing him to register the Simunye Workers Forum (SWF) as a trade union.
The SWF is an off-shoot of the Casual Workers Advice Office. It has about 6,600 members, mainly casual workers. Once it is registered, it will be able to represent its members in disciplinary hearings, wage negotiations and matters before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
The forum first went to court after the registrar repeatedly refused to register it as a union.
“The reality is that the registrar has imposed a range of requirements (for registration) that do not appear in the Labour Relations Act (LRA),” said Judge Andre van Niekerk in his ruling handed down on Monday.
He said there were no prospects of success in an appeal.
The registrar had argued that the judge had been wrong when he ruled that SWF had a compliant constitution, directing him to register the forum as a union within 14 days.
“The requirements are not peremptory. The Act treats all unions equally. There is no provision for traditional and new trade unions in the labour market. If this was the case, the Act would have been amended accordingly,” the registrar submitted.
But Judge van Niekerk said that while the registrar was correct that the LRA treated unions equally, he was wrong in assuming that it necessarily followed that unions which did not adopt organisational structures which replicated those of unions currently registered, could not be registered until there was a legislative amendment.
He said SWF’s constitution provided for the office of a secretary, in line with the LRA, but it had chosen to be managed by a standing committee, subject to the overall direction and control of meetings.
“It was entitled to make that choice,” he said.
“The fact that it does not employ officials because it prefers members to perform that work is not a disqualification for registration.”
Judge van Niekerk said SWF’s constitution promoted greater accountability, responsibility and democracy through its flat, non-hierarchical structure.
“In short, none of the grounds of appeal have any prospects of success, nor are there any other compelling reasons to grant leave to appeal,” he said, dismissing the application and ordering the registrar to pay SWF’s costs.
Forum member Vuyelwa Magidela told GroundUp they believed this was a “clear win”, and they did not expect the Registrar to take the matter further.
“I don’t understand why he is fighting with us. The clock is ticking. We are now waiting for the 14 days to get our certificate (of registration).”