Police seek “essential service” ruling


The South African Police Service (SAPS) has asked the Constitutional Court to determine whether support personnel employed by the onstitute an “essential service” and whether they are entitled to strike.

The BusinessDay newspaper says the police have applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal against last September’s Labour Appeal Court judgment which held that the “essential service” was the policing function of the police as set out in the Constitution and in the SAPS Act.

The Labour Appeal Court also held that employees employed under the Public Service Act did not form part of the SAPS, which is designated an essential service by the Labour Relations Act.

The facts underlying the case dates to the 2007 public service strike when the leadership of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) called on all police employees to strike. The SAPS then brought an urgent application to interdict POPCRU members employed by the police service from striking .The police said it employed 163 000 people in 2007, 129 000 of whom were “functional” employees under the SAPS Act, and 33 000 in support functions under the Public Service Act.

The police contended that the support functions were essential to the proper performance of the police service, and therefore that the service in its entirety was essential. The Labour Court granted an interdict barring functional police officers from striking as they rendered an essential service.

However, the court found that police employees appointed under the Public Service Act did not render an essential service, the Business Day says. The police then applied unsuccessfully against that order to the Labour Appeal Court.

In written argument before the Constitutional Court, the police say while employees performed different functions, each of these functions was an essential link in the chain of service it provided.

POPCRU said what was designated as essential in terms of the Labour Relations Act was a service and not an industry. POPCRU added that broadening the essential service definition to include public service employees, means cleaners, gardeners, human resources and finance are all deemed to be performing essential services.