Absa takes union to court over protest

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Absa Gallo Images Photo by Luke Walker/Gallo Images.

Durban - Absa has gone to the high court for an interdict against the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) because, it says, another “hostage” incident in which staff and customers barricaded themselves in when the union marched on its offices, would damage its reputation.

The case was argued before Durban High Court judge Graham Lopes on Friday.

The bank was asking for an interdict barring the union from protesting within 150m of any of its Durban premises, acting in an intimidating or violent manner or damaging its property.

The spat revolves around the bank’s role in the loss of millions from the union’s provident funds.

The union claims the money was lost due to Absa’s “negligence and greed”.

The trustees of the union’s investment body, Trilinear Empowerment Trust, last month lodged a R195-million claim against Absa, to recover the money. Absa has countered with its own claim.

The lawsuit relates to funds lost after Trilinear invested in the failed Pinnacle Point Group, the property developers which went under in 2011.

Sactwu marched on Absa’s regional office and bank in the Durban central business district (CBD) on March 8 with placards that read: “Absa stole R200m” and “Absa is rotten”.

The bank’s Maletsatsi Molefe said in court papers that the marchers had caused chaos.

Absa was forced to close and keep customers inside for over an hour as the protesters were unruly and hostile.

Protesters surrounded the ATM area, poured beer on the machines and banged on the windows.

Molefe said staff had been traumatised and needed counselling.

If the protests continued business would suffer and the bank would suffer reputational damage, she said. “The allegations (about the failed investments) are damaging.”

The bank said it intended suing the union for damage to property during the protest.

In correspondence with the union, which was before court, the bank said it expressed its sympathy for the losses incurred as a result of the decision of Trilinear to invest in the Pinnacle Point Group.

However, the bank said it was not responsible for any losses and this would be proved when Trilinear’s lawsuit came before the court.

“Absa cannot allow a situation to prevail where Sactwu uses intimidatory tactics to try to force Absa into paying money to Trilinear without the benefit of having Trilinear’s claim tested in court.”

In replying papers, the union’s attorney, Brett Purdon, said the union had a right to protest and it did not condone violent behaviour.

He said the union had no plans to hold further protests and any court action by Absa was “premature and inappropriate”.

Judgment was reserved. - The Mercury

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