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HR 101 – What to do When . . . Your Staff Want to Strike – Part 4

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Relations and Best Practice.

So far we have:-
1. Looked at when your staff cannot strike, and
2. We defined exactly what a strike is, and
3. We looked at when a strike is considered protected.

This week we will look at some tips on “how to” control strike action.

Often what happens within an organization is that the union has given notice of intention to strike to Management, the employees then go on a mission to increase their numbers and support. They do this by asking non-union members to join them in the strike. This usually becomes intimidation and as we have all too often seen in the past, this can lead to violence.

Make sure that the unions are advised, as soon as the notice of intention to strike has been given, that they are obliged to ensure that all non-union members are not intimidated in any way. Advise them that it is their responsibility to ensure that they control their members.

Put a notice on notice boards and send out an e-mail or a memo to all the staff stating that you have a “zero-tolerance” policy in terms of intimidation. Make sure that they understand that any employee who intimidates another employee will be requested to attend a disciplinary hearing and that if they are found guilty of intimidation, they may be dismissed.

Be aware that proving intimidation is very difficult as the only witness that you may have is the person who was actually intimidated and they often don’t want to give evidence at a disciplinary as this may result in further reprisals against them.

Misconduct, in the form of violence and verbal abuse, should also not be tolerated at all, during a strike. Again all employees and the union should be notified in writing, that under no circumstances, will misconduct in the form of violence, verbal abuse, or destruction of property be tolerated and anyone found in the Act of Misconduct will face disciplinary procedures and those found guilty may be dismissed. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the union understands that any losses incurred as a direct result of misconduct, will be for their account and that the union will be held liable. Ensure that the union officials understand that any form of misconduct or intimidation will result in the Company approaching the Labour Court for an urgent interdict.

If possible, get a written undertaking from the union acknowledging that they have a duty to control their members during a strike.

If any acts of misconduct or intimidation occur during the strike, make sure that disciplinary hearings are undertaken after the strike is over. It is of the utmost importance that you do this in order to set a precedent, irrespective of whether the strike had the desired effect or not. This reiterates your stand on misconduct, and intimidation, and sends a clear message that you have “zero tolerance” in terms of intimidation or misconduct.

As usual, prevention is better than cure and so it is a good idea to ensure that you have all of these policies in place before you are in a ‘strike’ type situation. Put your rules in place, or negotiate your rules with the union about strike-related conduct before you are in any kind of dispute and when you are more likely to get a reasonable resolution in place. Obviously, if there is a pre-agreement in place and this is breached in any way, you have to take action – but having a pre-agreement in place means that you are in a much stronger position to do so.

Next week we will look at replacement labour.