File photo: Rogan Ward/Reuters.
Unions are up in arms over a statement by the Department of Labour that workers would have to conduct a secret ballot before going on strike.

But Cosatu said this was just noise, as the provision was already present in the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

It wants the Minister of Labour to instruct his officials to withdraw the statement. The SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) threatened to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court, saying it infringed on workers’ rights.

Parliamentary co-ordinator for Cosatu Matthew Parks said workers had a right to strike.

“It is extremely irresponsible for the Department of Labour to have issued such a dangerous and reckless statement that unballoted strikes are now illegal. The minister must intervene and instruct the department to retract this provocative statement,” said Parks.

There were provisions that allowed for a protected strike, including obtaining a certificate from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, he said.

“The only change made to the strike balloting provision is the clarification in the 2018 LRA Amendment Act indicating that strike ballots must be secret. Even this is not entirely new. The 1995 LRA itself made reference to secret ballots, but was vague and not always clear,” said Parks.

He said secret ballots happened in political parties and even Parliament when electing a president or removing one.

Saftu said it would mobilise its members for a general strike against the law, and also approach the International Labour Organisation and the Constitutional Court to block it.

It said the right to strike was the only weapon workers had, and to allow for a secret ballot before a strike was an infringement of this right.

“The secret ballot is a Stalingrad tactic meant to fatigue workers and unions from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to strike, meant to diminish the already shrinking power of the working class,” said Saftu in a statement.

It added that the new law would curtail the power of the workers to go on strike.

Saftu’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said it would also challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said they objected to this law because of its implications to the workers and their right to strike.

He described the law as draconian and supported calls by Saftu for a general strike.

“We have been consulting our attorneys on this issue, and we will be challenging this law at the Constitutional Court,” said Jim.

Political Bureau