Cape Town - The wheels of justice are expected to grind to a halt in the Western Cape’s lower courts next week, as about 250 disgruntled magistrates embark on industrial action over their long-running pay dispute with the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Office Bearers.
Magistrates are aggrieved that their salaries have shrunk in recent years from 47 percent of the chief justice’s pay package to 30 percent.
Earlier this week, Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice approved a 5.5 percent salary increase for magistrates.
However, the magistrates are not happy with the offer and are to embark on a week-long go-slow from Monday.
While they will still be at court, the magistrates will only do postponements, the Judicial Officers Association of South Africa (Joasa) said yesterday.
Joasa president Nazeem Joemath said members had reported being intimidated, particularly in the Western Cape.
“They are planning on using clerks and court interpreters to monitor magistrates who are participating in the strike. But we are not swayed by this, we would rather have welcomed an engagement to resolve the five-year pay dispute and prevent strike action,” he said.
Court insiders have confirmed that court managers and area managers were advised in writing that clerks and court interpreters should be used to assist managers in collecting monitoring information.
Western Cape Justice head Hishaam Mohamed confirmed that the Magistrates’ Commission had requested that chief magistrates put contingency measures in place to ensure that courts were not dysfunctional.
He said affected courts would provide daily updates to area managers in the mornings and afternoons to enable the department to monitor the functionality of the courts.
In a letter to magistrates, Magistrates’ Commission chairperson Judge Malesela Francis Legodi ordered regional court presidents and chief magistrates to put in place monitoring mechanisms to keep tabs on striking magistrates
But Joemath said they were going ahead with the planned industrial action irrespective of the threats – unless the issue was resolved over the weekend.
“We expect about 1 400 magistrates from across the country to participate in the action,” he added.
The pay dispute is the subject of a Constitutional Court case in which judgment is expected shortly.
However, Joemath said that even if the court made a ruling, it would do little for their plight.
“Nobody has been doing anything about this dispute, and the situation has been allowed to deteriorate even further over the past few years,” he said. He added that their go-slow plans came as a last resort and that “magistrates will strike responsibly. If there’s an urgent application that involves life or death matters our magistrates would deal with it”.
Meanwhile, a high-level meeting between court staff and members of the National Prosecuting Authority was held in Cape Town yesterday.
“The province’s legal fraternity is confident that the impact of the strike on the administration of justice will be minimal.
“We expect that at least three quarters of the province’s magistrates will distance themselves from the strike action,” an insider said.
It is understood that the entry-level salary for a magistrate is about R630 000.