Constitutional Court – Labour Appeal Court – Labour Court – protest – protected strike
SERI represents CSAAWU and 173 workers in their opposition of an overbroad interdict prohibiting CSAAWU, striking workers and unknown persons from protesting at Oak Valley Estates, a large farming estate in Grabouw, Western Cape.
When CSAAWU began organising workers at Oak Valley in 2018, they found that Oak Valley allocated the on-site housing for its employees in a discriminatory way, forcing black workers to live in cramped single-sex hostels while their white and coloured counterparts were given familial accommodation. Because the majority of black farm workers are originally from Qumbu, a village in the Eastern Cape, the housing policies dictated that their family members remain in the Eastern Cape and limited their ability to enjoy a family life.
After numerous attempts to engage with the employer, CSAAWU began a protected strike on 6 May 2019 under picketing rules established by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The workers went on strike to demand an increase in salary from R15 to R18 (approximately $0.86 to $1.03) per hour, an end to labour brokers, and an end to the unfair and discriminatory housing practices. The workers claimed that the unfair housing policy infringed on their rights to equality and human dignity.
After a few days of protesting, Oak Valley approached the Labour Court, sitting in Cape Town to interdict what it claimed were breaches of the picketing rules, mainly for the workers picketing outside the picketing area identified in the rules, interference with its customers, suppliers and non-striking employees and “unlawful and criminal conduct”.
On 20 May 2019, the court granted a limited rule nisi which granted the interdict unless CSAAWU could show cause as to why it should not apply. The court removed references to interference as it was clear that engaging with suppliers, non-striking employees and customers was essential for the picket.
In opposing the interdict, SERI argued that the Labour Court could not interdict the strikers for criminal conduct when none of the conduct complained of could be linked to them. In principle, the court did not deem it necessary to determine if those interdicted were in any way linked to the conduct the employers wanted to interdict. On 21 June 2019, the Court interdicted CSAAWU and all the strikers from committing unlawful and criminal conduct in furtherance of the strike.
On 6 August 2019, CSAAWU was granted leave to appeal to the Labour Appeal Court. SERI, on behalf of CSAAWU, argued that 1) the order prohibits people from accessing their homes, which amounts to an unlawful eviction order; 2) the order interferes with people’s freedom of movement in that it prohibits union members from moving and being in a public space, thereby interfering with their right to freedom of movement; and, 3) the order is vague and incompetent in law as it amounts to a general decree to act lawfully. The matter was adjudicated in May 2020 and the Labour Appeal Court confirmed Labour Court's decision to grant the interdict restraining the applicants from various forms of unlawful conduct to which they had not been linked on any factual or rational basis.
SERI has now appealed to the Constitutional Court to obtain a decisive decision against the abuse of interdicts to silence activists. The Constitutional Court will hear the matter on 31 August 2021.