Ulemasa alleged human rights abuses and labour law infringements during a picket at the embassy of the UAE in Pretoria on Friday. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA

Pretoria - Civic society group Transform RSA on Thursday strongly criticised diplomatic staff labour union Ulemasa for holding what it called an illegal march at the Pretoria embassy of the United Arab Emirates last week.

In a statement, Transform RSA said a picket by law should consist of a maximum of 15 people persons, and a permit for a march should be issued by South African authorities in order to exceed that number.

"Those rules were not adhered to and followed. The absence of such a permit renders and categorizes the picket an illegal march, which was a case in this march,” it said.

It said Reem Mutwali was the only former employee with a grievance with the UAE embassy present at the Union of Local Employees of Missions Accredited to South Africa (Ulemasa) picket.

"The union goes around recruiting former employees of embassies in an attempt to use former employees as reasons to take action against embassies. Other embassies’ former employees were also recruited and used to push similar actions against their former respective embassies," the civic group said.

Mutwali alleges that after working for the UAE mission for two years, she was suddenly fired directly by Ambassador Mahash Saeed Alhameli in June "for the political instability in my country of origin Sudan".

"The ambassador told me I had to leave this embassy instantly. That is how I was fired. I had been working here as an Arabic translator at the military office. It was so sudden and unexpected. The ambassador referred to the instability, the political situation, in my home country when he dismissed me. That was all," she told journalists outside the UAE mission last week

In a brief statement which did not mention Mutwali by name, the embassy said the termination "came in accordance with the relevant provisions and regulations, and in line with the employee’s contract".

"The embassy reaffirms its respect for laws relating to the working conditions of locally employed staff in order to ensure their fair and equitable treatment and comply with the provisions stipulated by South African law as well as the policies of the department of international relations regarding the management of diplomatic immunity and privilege when hiring local staff," it added.

On Thursday Transform RSA accused Ulemasa of using former employees of embassies to forcefully gain access to the missions' premises.

"Such actions could be viewed as illegal and unlawful and should be totally condemned. They make damaging and vexatious unfounded claims aimed at hurting the good reputation of the embassy and the ambassador," it said.

“This in turn discourages the Embassy from doing its work of promoting good relations and strengthening cooperation relations and boasting investment into the South African economy.”

Ulemasa, which has recently led pickets to the embassies of China and Thailand, did not immediately respond to Transform RSA's charges. 

Last week, police units and armed private security were on high alert at the UAE embassy as Ulemasa protested against alleged human rights abuses and labour law infringements.

"Employees are being dismissed anyhow and the embassy officials contend that they are immune to South African law," Ulemasa general organiser Ayanda Molefe told the African News Agency.

"They say they can do whatever they see fit with these workers. We are here to fight that."

Molefe urged the department of international relations to ensure that embassies complied with the Labour Relations Act.

African News Agency (ANA)