South Africa’s financial union’s planned strike declared illegal

When the financial sector in South Africa was faced with a big strike, it resorted to scuttling the strike using the court. Business Unity South Africa (Busa) had approached the Labour Court two days prior to the planned strike of 27th September, seeking an urgent interdict against the strike.

South Africa’s biggest financial union Sasbo (formerly the SA Society of Bank Officials) was mobilising a huge strike that would have disrupted the country’s banking industry. The union was leading its 73,000 members on a strike on 27th September, in what would be its largest industrial action in almost a century. Five major marches were planned throughout the country in Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town.

The strike was over planned retrenchments in the banking sector. South African banks have cut thousands of jobs and closed a number of branches as they move from traditional banking model to digital systems, which encourage customers to use the internet and cell phone banking instead of walk-in at branches.  The country’s big four banks were already moving to downsize by closing some branches and merging others to align banking services. Standard Bank closed 104 branches, affecting more than 1,000 jobs. Nedbank, FNB and Absa have also trimmed branches, with Absa reducing its workforce from 885 in 2011 to 698 in this year’s first quarter.

Sasbo wants banks to consider options other than retrenchments and begin a program to re-skill employees whose positions are at risk.

Meanwhile the finance capitalists applied to the court to declare the strike invalid based on some technical matter. As always the business leaders talked of “the rights of bank workers to engage in protest action,” but warned that such action would not help to address the realities affecting the banking industry and warned that it would further burden the economy and deter investment. This is the argument that capitalists in every country use to bring workers’ strikes to disrepute.

The much-anticipated strike by workers in the banking industry was successfully interdicted by the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, saying that the proposed action was unlawful. This now means that should unions and workers go on strike, their action would be illegal and they may face consequences. Sasbo was preparing to appeal the court’s judgment and plan its next course of action.


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