unfair working conditions - Labour Court - Cape Town
SERI represents an unafilliated union - the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural & Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU) - based in the Western Cape in unfair dismissal proceedings in the Cape Town Labour Court. CSAAWU claims that Robertson Abattoir had been forcing its employees to work up to 18 hours per day - in contravention of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act – for as little as R300 to R400 per week. It alleges that workers were locked out and eventually dismissed for protesting against the working conditions, refused re-entry onto the premises and replaced with new workers. The employer claimed that they were dismissed for “absenteeism” and “insubordination” following disciplinary proceedings held after their lock out. Their dismissal was referred to the Cape Town Labour Court where CSAAWU argued that the dismissal of the protesting workers was unfair.
In June 2014 the employer launched an interlocutory application inter alia in respect of the locus standi of nine of the 39 applicants. Many of the preliminary disputes raised in this application were the result of Robertson Abattoir’s view that this matter is “a run-of-the-mill dismissal dispute”. However the dispute concerns the livelihood and dignity of indigent workers from an impoverished rural area who contend that they had been subjected to appalling working conditions, and have been unfairly dismissed. In July 2014 judgment was handed down by the Labour Court in the interlocutory application. The Court held that the applicants based their claim on an automatic unfair dismissal that took place on 30 November 2010, and that all 39 applicants have locus standi in the dispute.
The trial proceeded in March 2015, where CSAAWU led evidence to show that the dismissal was through a lock out because the workers refused to slaughter 850 carcasses per day, and that it was not for the reasons claimed by Robertson Abattoir. The union’s evidence was largely uncontested. Despite this, Judge Steenkamp granted the employer absolution from the incident, holding that the workers were not dismissed on the basis and date which they alleged.
Leave to appeal was refused by the Labour Court. CSAAWU petitioned the Labour Appeal Court and leave to appeal was granted on 18 August 2015. The appeal was argued on 24 May 2016, and on 22 August 2016 the court handed down judgment setting the Labour Court ruling aside and upholding CSAAWU's appeal with costs.