Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance Mayor Patricia de Lille is calling on the leader of the opposition African National Congress in the city, Tony Ehrenreich, to support a claim for damages against striking municipal workers who went on a rampage in the city last week. Meanwhile, the DA, the main opposition to the ANC in the National Assembly want a new law to hold rampaging strikers to account.
“This administration condemns the unacceptably high levels of reported violence [and] intimidation of non-striking workers and property damage by Samwu [the SA Municipal Workers Union] workers during the strike,” De Lille said in a statement. “This administration respects the right of workers to strike as a fundamental labour right in our democracy. We do not respect the exploitation of those rights to cause damage and threaten others.
“I call on the leader of the opposition in the city council, councillor Tony Ehrenreich, to join me in condemning illegal behaviour and to support the city claiming for damages from Samwu,” De Lille said. The strikers, some wearing red Samwu T-shirts, looted from vendors, set plastic bins on fire and smashed the windows of vehicles as they protested for higher wages. The city’s main shopping avenue, Adderley Street, was left covered with litter and burnt out bins Thursday.
Thirteen protesters were arrested and would be charged with public violence, police said. Samwu is demanding an 18% pay increase. The SA Local Government Association that negotiaes for local government countrywide is offering 6%. Ehrenreich, who also leads the ANC-aligned Congress of SA Trade Unions in Western Cape, addressed the workers outside of the city’s offices at the start of the strike on Monday.
The city has warned striking municipal workers that it will take “whatever action is necessary” to protect its property. De Lille said the city would review CCTV footage of the violence. “The city will identify those employees who have acted in an unlawful manner against the safety of our employees, members of our community and public property,” she said. “Where we find evidence of criminal behaviour, we will consider instituting both disciplinary and possibly criminal charges against the offenders.” The city would also assess all damages to property by Samwu and its members. “We shall reserve the right to claim these costs from Samwu as we have done in the past,” De Lille said.
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Ian Ollis in a separate statement said the violent nature of the strike and the “malicious damage to property” added “renewed urgency” to a private member’s bill that seeks to hold unions liable for the damage their members cause.
“The DA supports and recognises the constitutional right to strike, but we deplore the violence, intimidation and destruction of private and state-owned property that has become a common feature of industrial action.”
Ollis added he has noted Cosatu opposes the Bill, with its General-Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, stating that he would personally make sure that the bill is kept out of Parliament on the grounds that it would bankrupt the unions. “We say that if Mr Vavi wants to protect the finances of his unions, he should do something to stop his members from trashing our cities.”
The DA’s private member’s Bill proposes:
– that unions be forced to take pro-active steps to prevent their members from engaging in violence;
– that courts be empowered to stop a strike that has become excessively violent by forcing the parties into arbitration; and
– that courts be empowered to award punitive damages against unions whose members have committed violence, injured innocent parties or damaged property in the course of industrial action.
“The DA will continue to ensure that the democratic right to strike is exercised responsibly and will not shy away from holding the unions to account for the behaviour of their members,” Ollis said.
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