The toyi-toyi will never be the same
A landmark Constitutional Court ruling that could hold all unions liable for damages caused during strikes has been met with mixed reactions.
The Constitutional Court yesterday upheld a high court judgment that the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union was liable for damages caused during a strike in Cape Town in 2006.
The court ruled that the law aimed to afford victims recourse where a gathering becomes destructive and results in injury, loss of property or life.
In upholding the judgment, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said: "The organisations are intimately involved in the planning, supervision and execution of the gathering, but the potential victims are not . it is thus not unreasonable to allow the victim of riot damage to claim all compensation from the organisers of a gathering and then leave it to the organisers to seek recourse."
During the 2006 strike, shops were looted and several cars were damaged by people involved in the protest.
Satawu general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said yesterday's ruling was a "disaster" as it set a precedent for organisers of Satawu and other unions to be held liable for damage caused during strikes.
"We still need to be advised by our lawyers as to what we can do," he said.
While Satawu tried to be rational about the matter, it believed "certain clauses" of the constitution needed to be rewritten, Mahlangu said.
Yesterday's ruling meant Satawu would have to cough up just over R500000, but Mahlangu said its main concern was that the ruling would restrict workers' right to go on strike.
The DA saw the ruling as a "massive victory".
The party's spokesman on transport, Ian Ollis, has for more than two years advocated that parliament adopt a "private members bill", legislation that would hold unions responsible for riot damage caused during strikes, marches and pickets.
Ollis said yesterday: "For too long Cosatu and its affiliates have been allowed to engage in violent and chaotic strikes without any repercussions. This ruling sets a precedent that will force them to keep better discipline at marches, pickets and strikes."
Sizwe Pamla, spokesman for health workers' union Nehawu, said yesterday's judgment failed to realise that people who caused damage during strikes were not always union members.
The deputy general secretary of education union Sadtu, Nkosana Dolopi, said the judgment set a detrimental precedent.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said last night: "We regret the decision and we will be engaging the government to see how the law can be changed to protect the right of workers to strike."