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HR 101 – What to do When . . . Your Staff Want to Strike – Part 2

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

So what we now know, is when the staff cannot strike – let’s take a step back though and define exactly what a strike is:

Section 213 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) says “The partial or complete concerted refusal to work or the retardation or obstruction of work, by persons who are or have been employed by the same employer or by different employers, for the purpose of remedying a grievance or resolving a dispute in respect of any matter of mutual interest between an employer and an employee, and reference to “work” in this definition includes overtime work, whether it is voluntary or compulsory.”

What does all of this actually mean?

This means that in order for it to be termed “a strike” there have to be three definite components.

The first one of course has several parts to it and it revolves around the issue of work. It is (but not limited to):

• “Refusal to work”. This means that any refusal to work, whether it is a “go slow” or work relating to overtime or even if the employee refuses to “clock in/out” and so on. So let’s take the example of George, who is in a production line at a factory. George’s job is to pack the finished product into tissue paper, place it back onto the conveyer belt and from there it goes to the next person who packs the wrapped product into a box. George abandons his station at the conveyer belt and refuses to wrap any of the product thereby refusing to perform any of his duties.
• “Partial refusal to work”. In this instance, George stands at the conveyer belt and wraps only some of the product into the tissue paper and then also refuses to place the wrapped items back onto the conveyer belt. In this instance, he is only refusing to perform some of his duties but not all.
• “Retardation of work.” In this example, George continues to perform his duties but at a rate that is as slow as possible, without coming to a dead stop. This is commonly known as “a go slow”. George’s manager asks George to assist with the packing of the product into boxes, but George refuses as his contract does not specifically state that he must pack product into boxes. This is known as “work to rule.”
• “Obstruction of work”. In this instance, George does not wrap the product at all but does put the unwrapped product back onto the conveyor belt which means the product cannot be packed but must be removed from the packing area and taken back up to the point where it should be wrapped by George before any packing of boxes can continue.

The second component in terms of a strike is that a single employee cannot strike and it, therefore, has to be two or more employees that refuse to work before it can be considered a strike.

The final component in a strike is that there has to be a purpose to the strike which is usually to resolve a dispute or to remedy a grievance. To resolve a dispute is usually around the issue of salary increases or benefits and a grievance is usually around issues of perceptions of unfair dismissal. In this instance, George is dismissed for dishonesty in that some of the wrapped product ended up in his pockets or in his home without any of it being paid for. George is disciplined, found guilty of misconduct and dismissed and his colleagues feel that he has been dismissed unfairly and go on a strike in an effort to force management to give George his job back.

Please remember that a grievance of any nature can be and is anything that is between the employer and the employee whether there has been a collection bargaining process or not.

Next week we will look at protected and unprotected strikes.