Strike Actions of Security Workers

THURSDAY, 18 MAY 2006

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
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The House met at …
The Speaker took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment for silent prayer or meditation.

QUESTIONS TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

Question 12:

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Thanks, Chairperson. The hon member indeed raises a very important issue. Yes indeed, hon member, we have taken note of the recent actions of some of the striking security-industry workers, including what took place here in Cape Town on Tuesday.

I would like to say, hon member, with regard to this that we lost many, many lives in the struggle to bring about democracy in this country. And I'm quite certain that all of us remember very clearly and very vividly the great numbers of people who were killed every day during the 1980s into the beginning of the 1990s. Even as we sat here to adopt the 1996 Constitution, those killings were still taking place - on the trains and everywhere else. People will remember names like Shobashobane; they will remember names like Boipatong and so on.

All of us together as a country had said that we must establish this democracy in our country, which, among other things, then creates all of the space that anybody would need in order to address whatever their concerns are peacefully.

So this has, indeed, been a matter of great concern that in this instance you see people who are on strike with absolutely every right to go on strike - that is a right that we must defend - but then doing things that are quite wrong, things that are criminal. You cannot go around breaking windows, breaking up cars, looting. And very, very worrying too are these reports - I do not know if they are correct - of people being thrown out of trains. This takes us back to things that happened in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. This can't be right; it just cannot be correct.

So this is a matter of grave concern that, given all of the democratic space that everyone has and the possibility to advance one's purposes and win one's battles by peaceful means, that we have violence of this kind taking place. It can't be right.

I do hope that our people as a whole take this matter up. Here are commuters - thousands of commuters - who want to go to work, and somebody goes and torches a commuter train. This impacts on these thousands of workers who want to go to work. Now they have to scramble to find places in taxis and have all sorts of problems.
So I am saying that I believe that our country really needs to stand up and say: Enough is enough. [Applause.] And, most certainly, the law-enforcement authorities have to act with the greatest vigour on this matter. There isn't a single person in this country - nobody - whose cause is so just that they are allowed to kill other people. No such person exists. [Applause.] Thank you, Madam Chairperson.

Mr C M LOWE: Thank you, Chairperson. Hon Mr President, thank you very much indeed for your answer. Could I immediately just endorse everything that you have said on behalf of the DA and strongly support the views that you have expressed this afternoon?

Now, Mr President, I actually asked this question a couple of weeks ago after the Durban violence situation. And, as you have already pointed out, in the two or three weeks since then we have seen some more unfortunate deaths. We have seen wanton destruction just a few metres away from this very building 48 hours ago.

There is a constitutional guarantee for everybody to strike peacefully, and we certainly would endorse that. It is something that people have fought and died for in this country. But, sir, next week on behalf of the DA, I will introduce into this Parliament private member's legislation, making trade unions responsible civilly and criminally for the actions taken and the destruction caused by their members.

I'd like to ask you whether you would endorse that legislation. [Interjections.] Whether you will or will not, sir, could I ask whether you would consider asking your government to declare a state of emergency within the CBD of Cape Town to ensure, Mr President, that the innocent people ... [Interjections.]

The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms C-S Botha): Hon member ...


Mr C M LOUW: ... who were injured and attacked and the shop owners, in terms of the damage that was caused, will be compensated through that Act. Thank you very much, Chairperson.

The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms C-S Botha): May I remind you that questions are there to get information not opinions. Thank you very much. Hon Mr President?

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Thanks, Chairperson. No. I really do believe that in the end the entrenchment of our democratic system - its vitality, its vibrancy - really does depend on the commitment of all of us to make sure that that democratic system that is entrenched is vibrant. This is because you can indeed pass any number of laws, but if these values and so on of democracy are not in the mind - are part of the things that we own - the laws will be disobeyed.

So, I think, the critical matter that we face now is to make sure that this message goes out to all our people in order to activate our people really to stand up for the defence of all of these rights - the right to strike must be defended; the right to peaceful demonstration must be defended; there is the right of choice and for people to say, "I decide to do this, which may differ from what you are doing" - to get all of us to understand all of this.

You've seen during the course of the local government elections some other people getting killed - municipal councillors, even councillors who got elected, others even before the elections took place. What does that say? That says that there are still some people who entertain these wrong ideas that they can impose their will on society by force of arms. I am also saying that you have a situation in which we can't sit paralysed as a population and not defend these rights for which, indeed, so many people sacrificed their lives. That is the route I would go.

I'm quite sure that when the private member's Bill is presented, the House will discuss that. It's perfectly legitimate to do that. But I'd look in a different direction to deal with this problem that has faced us in a number of instances - the burning of mayors' houses and councillors' houses and all sorts of things that are quite, quite wrong and really ought not to be allowed. Thanks, Chairperson. [Applause.]

Mr G G OLIPHANT: Chairperson, thank you very much. Hon President, I think the matter is adequately put, and the trade unions do agree themselves that there is no place for intimidation and violence in our labour relations discourse and that strikes and demonstrations must be peaceful.

They have also said that it is very regrettable that some people - workers - have engaged in these criminal activities and that those who engaged in those activities must face the consequences of their actions. That has also been said by the trade unions themselves.

What I want to point out is that there are two parties to this dispute: employers and workers for that matter. The employers, in this instance we are referring to the security sector, have refused, are refusing and continue to refuse to go to the negotiating table.

The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms C-S Botha): Hon Oliphant, your time is expiring.

Mr G G OLIPHANT: Shall we encourage both parties to go to the table and sort out this matter?

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: As the hon member is aware, the Minister of Labour the hon Membathisi Mdladlana has indeed been urging this a number of time - that the employers and workers ought to engage one another in negotiations and solve this problem. It's important. It has to happen, and the Minister was quite correct. Indeed, there has been pressure on him to intervene, and indeed he has explained very clearly what the law says and that the government is not about to undermine the collective bargaining system in the country. So, yes indeed, hon member, you are quite right.

But we have to insist on this matter. Sure, those negotiations between employers and workers must proceed. But there is absolutely nothing that entitles anybody whatever the circumstances to engage in the violence that we have seen. [Applause.] If we allow it to continue, we will have anarchy in the country. The next time somebody disagrees with the hon Oliphant, refuses to sit with him when they should sit and bashes him on the head, we can't say that is right - that Oliphant should have sat with that person.

We cannot have buts about this thing. It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong. It's undermining our democratic system. [Applause.]

Mr B H HOLOMISA: Thank you, Chairperson. Hon President, in the light of the damage to property, vandalism, violence and suspected murders committed on the East Rand trains, I would like to know from you whether the government wouldn't consider appointing a committee from the Cabinet security cluster, with the Department of Labour, to look into developing peaceful march regulations which would, among other things, ban the carrying of any weapons, be they traditional or otherwise, during marches, as well as ban intimidation of nonstriking workers and employers. This matter must be looked at from a Constitutional perspective and the wide variety of human rights that violent strikers have trampled upon.

IsiXhosa :

[Time expired.]


THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: I would say, hon Holomisa, that the justice cluster has indeed met to discuss this issue, not only about the strike but generally where you've had instances of this kind. Perhaps they might want to look at the law and the regulations, as the hon member has said, that affect these public demonstrations to see whether there is anything we need to do in that regard. But I am sure that we will raise that with them and follow up on it. Thanks, Chairperson.

Mrs P DE LILLE: I want to agree with the President that we must condemn violence in whatever form and that there is absolutely no justification for violence. Last week I intervened and spoke to both the employers' association and to the unions in trying to find an amicable solution.

But I want to share this with you, Comrade President. While talking to some of the workers I came across a company in Johannesburg called Max St(?) Security. This company is receiving a government grant for training security guards but, in fact, it deploys them to work for something like R45 for a 12-hour shift. So this strike has raised many other problems that we need to look into.

I think the time has arrived that we must now begin to look at a bargaining council for security workers and also that we must appeal to the Minister of Labour to set a minimum wage for the industry in order to avoid the kind of exploitation that is taking place. Thank you. [Time expired.]

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: I know, hon member, that the Minister of Labour has indeed been concerned about a whole variety of matters with regard to the workers in the security industry that have to do with wage levels, protection of jobs, health, social pensions, working hours and a whole range of matters like that. I know that he is concerned about even this question that has been discussed about a bargaining chamber and so on.

But let's get through this particular matter and, indeed as the hon Oliphant said, let the employers and the workers get together and resolve this thing. It is not as though anybody is insensitive to the real issues that confront the workers in this sector. But they are not going to resolve them by acting in the way that they are acting. Indeed, I'm quite certain that the Minister of Labour would be quite happy even to engage you, hon De Lille, to look precisely at these questions, including the matter of this Seta if it is not, in fact, doing training and doing other things instead. Thanks, Chairperson. [Applause.]


QUESTIONS CONCLUDED.

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