The North Gauteng High Court has ruled that the Registrar of Labour Relations at the Department of Labour may deregister the South African Security Forces Union (SASFU). The ruling followed an urgent application brought by SASFU to stop deregistration due to its failure to comply with the Labour Relations Act (LRA).
The Ministry of Defence, which wants to de-unionise the military, in a statement says the Registrar wrote to both SASFU and South African National Defence Union (SANDU) to provide his office with financial statements and other documents that they are required to submit annually, “and have not been submitting.”
“SASFU was unable to provide any of the information and was automatically deregistered as a union in the department,” the ministry says. SANDU submitted some information and requested an extension of the deadline. The ministry adds SANDU currently does not meet the threshold to be in the Military Bargaining Council as its audited membership is just 11000 and it is required to have 15 000 to operate in the Bargaining Chamber. The ministry says it has no formal relationship with either SANDU or SASFU as neither meet the threshold. Treasury figures show the DoD employs some 78 000 military and civilian personnel.
“As it stands SASFU is no longer a registered union in the DoD. The department has stopped all membership deductions from the payroll and any other recognition in the DoD.” The statement did not say what SASFU’s membership was, but the South African Press Association reports it as 7200.
SASFU president Bhekinkosi Mvovo, a navy engineer and lieutenant commander, told SAPA he was not aware deductions had been stopped, saying an urgent application to the High Court would have to be made if it was true. “The deregistration goes against regulations. There is no regulation saying that a trade union must be registered in order to receive payment from members,” Mvovo told the wire service. “We are only aware of the High Court’s decision.”
Mvovo said he complied with an e-mail request from the Registrar, Johannes Crouse on March 14, sending meeting minutes and names of office bearers to the registrar. “This was the first time I had heard from him. On March 15, we get an e-mail from him saying he has had no response from our general secretary Booysen Lengau regarding letters he sent.” Mvovo said the letters, sent in May and July last year, as well as January this year, were sent to the wrong physical address.
The last letter stated that if no information was provided, the registrar would proceed with deregistration. “I phoned the registrar on March 18, saying I was very surprised by the correspondence. That’s when he told me it’s too late. This is a political matter which has been given to an administrator. I do believe the minister (Lindiwe Sisulu) is directly linked to all of this.”
SASFU will decide on Wednesday whether to challenge the high court’s ruling.
The defence ministry says if SANDU misses the deadline of submitting the information or does not submit the required information, the department will support the Registrar in deregistering SANDU as well. “Our support of the Registrar is based on the principle that unions which operate in the department must respect the rule of law and their obligations”, the DoD says. “Looking at the progress made since we stopped all engagements with the unions, it is clear that the DoD is a better organisation without trade unions.”
The LRA requires trade unions to keep financial records and to have these audited yearly. These must be made available to members for inspection and be tabled at a meeting of its members. The law further requires membership lists, minutes of meetings and ballot papers to be kept for three years.
In addition, unions are required to report by March 31 each year, their membership as at December 31 to the Registrar and submit, “within 30 days of receipt of its auditor’s report, a certified copy of that report and of the financial statements; within 30 days of receipt of a written request by the registrar, an explanation of anything relating to the statement of membership, the auditor’s report or the financial statements; within 30 days of any appointment or election of its national office-bearers, the names and work addresses of those office-bearers, even if their appointment or election did not result in any changes to its office-bearers; and 30 days before a new address for service of documents will take effect, notice of that change of address.”
The LRA says when a trade union’s registration is cancelled, “all the rights it enjoyed as a result of being registered will end.”