Durban - ABSA Bank has secured an interdict against the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), stopping it from encouraging its members to behave unlawfully in any protests against the bank in Durban.
The bank brought the urgent court action in a bid to stop a repeat of a violent protest outside its city centre branch last month during which staff and clients were effectively held hostage inside while the protesters took over the ATM area and poured beer on the machines.
In his judgment, Durban High Court Judge Graham Lopes said the case did not concern a labour dispute but an incident of unlawful behaviour during protest action.
“The conduct of the union members undoubtedly exceeded the bounds of acceptable protest action,” he said.
Summarising the events of that day, the judge said the union had wished to hand over a memorandum to Absa at 11am on March 8 concerning lost provident fund investments, which they blamed on the bank.
People started gathering just after 9am and soon between 200 and 300 “were becoming increasing restless and agitated” because they had arrived early and there was no-one from the bank to receive their memorandum.
At 9.30am, the bank shut its doors when it became clear that the crowd now wanted to come in.
The protesters then leaned up against the windows, shouting abuse, they took over the ATM area, threw garbage bags, and poured beers on to the machines.
They eventually dispersed more than an hour later when the memorandum had been read and the police were called.
Customers were trapped inside and several staff members had to receive counselling.
After the incident, the bank’s lawyers wrote to the union’s lawyers requesting an undertaking that the union and its members would not engage in any further unlawful conduct.
In response, the union said it did not sanction, condone or support any form of unlawful action and would continue to impress that upon its members.
But the bank said this was an empty undertaking and launched the court action.
The judge, in granting the interdict against the union, said he would not grant it against any “innocent party”, nor union office bearers named as respondents, because there was no suggestion that they had participated in the incident.
He also refused to grant an order banning any union member from being within 150m of the bank because if members wished to protest legally in the future, they had a constitutionally protected right to do so.
“Absa has a clear right to be protected against the sort of conduct which occurred. While it can sue for physical damage to its premises, the damage which was caused to its reputation as a result of intimidation of its customers, is not something which is easily quantifiable. The customers may be reluctant to continue to be customers, fearing future violence. Absa has no remedy for these damages.”
The interdict will remain in place until the outcome of separate legal action, to be instituted within a month, in which the bank will sue the union for damages. - The Mercury