Solidarity interdict Continental Tyres SA from retrenching workers at its manufacturing plant in PE. Photographer: Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg

The Labour Court in Port Elizabeth has granted trade union Solidarity an urgent interdict that stops Continental Tyre South Africa (CTSA) from retrenching 125 employees.

Solidarity applied for the interdict after CTSA and the National Metalworkers Union of SA (Numsa) reached an agreement, without Solidarity’s knowledge, that allowed the company to introduce a new shift pattern and pay rates that also led to the planned retrenchments.

Johan Kruger, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary, said yesterday that the interdict stipulated that CTSA must discontinue its section 189 retrenchment process and no Solidarity members or non-union members may be laid off in terms of the agreement between CTSA and Numsa.

“Although the interdict provides temporary relief, we are satisfied the lay-offs have been prevented and that we were able to protect our members against the unfair retrenchment process.

“Had we not obtained an urgent interdict, the employer would have decided on the selection criteria for the lay-offs at a meeting on Monday. Moreover, Continental Tyres must cover the costs Solidarity incurred in obtaining the interdict,” he said.

The agreement reached between CTSA and Numsa followed an almost month-long strike at the company’s manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth, which saw the company lose between R7 million and R10m a day.

In terms of the agreement, CTSA moved to four shifts, with all its employees working two out of every four weekends and being paid time-and-a-half for Saturday work and double-time for Sunday work.

With the previous five-shift pattern, CTSA had a dedicated weekend shift with workers only working on Saturdays and Sundays and one day on an ad hoc basis during the week, but were paid normal wage rates for Saturday work and time-and-a-half for Sunday work.

However, the new shift pattern meant that CTSA had excess labour and planned to retrench about 125 workers, some of whom were members of Solidarity, which was not a party to the agreement.

Kruger said CTSA and Numsa had never consulted Solidarity and, based on the fact that Numsa was the majority trade union at the company, simply proceeded to implicate Solidarity members in the unfavourable agreement.

“We believe our battle against Continental Tyres draws renewed attention to the unfairness that often goes hand in hand with the majoritarian principle in the workplace.”

Kruger added that Solidarity would meet the company again should it initiate a revised retrenchment process but would continue to resort to legal remedies should CTSA fail to comply with legal procedures again.

Anton van der Bijl, the Labour Court division head at Solidarity, confirmed that CTSA could at a later stage proceed with the retrenchments provided the company followed the correct procedures.

However, Solidarity’s argument was that CTSA did not have a proper basis for proceeding with the retrenchments because the situation was created by the company.

Van der Bijl added that the planned number of retrenchments had been whittled down to 18 employees by CTSA instituting a voluntary severance package programme and natural attrition.

Attie Higgs, CTSA’s human resources manager, declined to comment on the number of retrenchments planned because the company was still busy with a Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration facilitation process.

He also declined to comment on the Labour Court judgment, stressing that it was an oral judgment and that the company was waiting for the full written judgment before deciding on the way forward.

Higgs said that CTSA would issue a press statement on the interdict in due course.