About The Simunye Workers Forum

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In brief:

The SWF is a trade union of 6600 members, which organises workers known as ‘casual’. It has a constitution, it collects membership fees, and it seeks to represent workers at the CCMA and in the relevant Bargaining Councils. Other existing unions have had decades in which they could have organised casual workers, but did not do so.

Instead, ‘casuals’ were historically, and still are today, seen by trade unions as difficult to organise and so they remain largely un-unionised.  This leaves these workers especially exposed to rights violations: ‘casuals’ are more easily dismissed, they are victimised for exercising basic rights, and women ‘casuals’ are more frequently sexually harassed or exploited than permanent, unionised workers.

The Registrar of Labour Relations says the SWF is not a genuine union because it does not have office bearer positions. Actually, the SWF consciously resolved not to have positions such as general secretary, president and deputy president. Instead it has a Standing Committee which takes minutes of all meetings, keeps an attendance register, and controls the collection and spending of membership fees. Each meeting elects a different chairperson and a secretary, at least one of whom is a woman. This ensures that everyone gets a chance to develop skills in meeting procedure, and it also prevents domination by any particular workplace or grouping.

The other reason given by the Industrial Registrar when he refused to register SWF as a union was that the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) helped establish it, and therefore the SWF is not independent. Yet this is not unusual in South African labour history – the General Workers Union grew out of the Western Province Advice Bureau in Cape Town, the Metal and Allied Workers Union (later NUMSA) grew out of the Industrial Aid Society, and the Combined Small Factory Workers Union grew out of the Alexandra Workers Advice Office. There are many non-profit labour service organisations like the CWAO who still partner with unions today to do research, education and other work as requested by the union.

The SWF specifically included a clause on its independence in its 2016 constitution: ‘Simunye Workers Forum is independent of the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO), but shares a relationship with the CWAO based on common principles and values.  CWAO provides support to Simunye Workers Forum.’

The impact of the Registrar’s refusal to register SWF as a union is severe. It leaves thousands of casual workers without any representation in the CCMA or Bargaining Councils. It means that bosses can continue refuse to negotiate any aspect of working conditions with the SWF (on the grounds that it is not a union). It effectively means that casual workers have to negotiate everything individually with their bosses. Many casual workers working on day to day ‘contracts (albeit for the same employer, often for years without interruption). Any attempt by individual casual workers to negotiate pay or working conditions simply means that the boss tells the labour broker that they won’t hire that worker again (victimisation).

In mid-2018, the Constitutional Court confirmed that the client company is the sole employer of labour broker workers placed for more than three months. But even this judgement from the apex court did not help casual workers to claim their legal right to be permanent because, again, employers refused to comply and continued to hire workers on a casual basis.

“When Simunye members tried to talk to their bosses, they were told that because they are not a registered union, the bosses do not need to recognise them, and they won’t talk to them” says one of SWF’s founder members, Vuyelwa Magidela, a deponent to an attached affidavit for this case.

The SWF has already been functioning as a union for some time. It succeeded in getting more than 12 500 labour broker workers at companies large and small (including Dischem, Barlow Rand, Kelloggs, Takealot, Simba and Heineken) made permanent employees.  But in other workplaces, bosses have simply refused to negotiate with SWF on the grounds that it is not a registered trade union.

The SWF believes it has adequately explained that it is a different kind of trade union from those with which the Registrar might be familiar, but a genuine trade union nonetheless.

This press statement was released by Simunye Workers’ Forum on 12 June 2023.

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