Abattoir asks court to halt defamation by farm union

By Time of article published Feb 21, 2012

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Wiseman Khuzwayo

A very small union with fewer than 2 000 members faces an application for an interdict today at the Western Cape High Court calling on it to stop defaming a company.

The Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU) serves farmworkers in the Western Cape. It is not affiliated to any labour federation.

Robertson Abattoir, a commercial high-volume slaughterhouse, wants the union to be restrained from “directly and indirectly publishing false information about the applicant in any way whatsoever” and “directly or indirectly contacting the applicant’s customers or suppliers”.

CSAAWU is represented by Stuart Wilson, an advocate at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA.

Much of the abattoir’s case is based on the fact that the union did not file a replying affidavit to a case in the Labour Court that was brought by the company in December last year.

The union said this was on the basis of legal advice that CSAAWU take the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

In his answering affidavit, CSAAWU general secretary Trevor Christians said the court application was in response to the lockout of CSAAWU’s members last November.

In its answering affidavit, the abattoir denied locking out CSAAWU’s members. It also denied that it had engaged in unlawful labour practices.

It said instead that the members had either been dismissed for insubordination, their contracts had expired or they still worked at the abattoir.

The workers complained to the union that their normal working hours were 7am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with 45 minutes for lunch and a 15 minute morning break, which made it a nine-hour working day.

Workers were paid R415 if 600 carcasses were slaughtered daily.

The workers said they had been working more than 12 hours a day or 60 hours a week. Between Tuesday and Friday they had to start at 6am and not 7am as stipulated in their contracts. This was contrary to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which stipulated that an employer could not require or permit a worker to work more than 45 hours in any week, or nine hours a day if the employee worked for fewer than five days in a week.

Also according to the act, staff should not work overtime except in accordance with a deal, and not for more than 10 hours.

Christians alleged that the workers started working in conformity with their contracts and the act.

They reported for work at 7am and left at 5pm. He claimed that on November 30, they were locked out after having slaughtered 600 carcasses as required by their contracts.

CSAAWU said its statements were true and the relief sought by Robertson was intended to neuter the union.

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