The United National Transport Union (UNTU) instructed its legal team to file an urgent application against the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in the Labour Court, to compel the state-owned enterprise (SOE) to pay the 5% wage increase it agreed to in a multiterm wage agreement.
Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU, says the Union already placed Prasa on terms to pay the wage increase for 2021 after the SOE failed to pay at the end of April 2021.
UNTU placed its urgent application on hold after Zolani Matthews, Chief Executive Officer of Prasa, gave the leadership of the Union the undertaking to pay during a meeting, but pleaded for time to sort out challenges with the Department of Transport and with National Treasury.
The initial extension was given until 7 May 2021, but Prasa once again asked the Union to bear with them.
“Prasa is playing for time, while National Treasury seems to believe that it is above the law and can simply ignore collective agreements parties entered into. This is seen in the fact that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is also taken to court for an order to compel it to pay out the last year of its wage agreement with the Public Servants Association (PSA).
“Collective bargaining is a fundamental right in our Constitution. It is one of the pillars of the Labour Relations Act and is rooted in the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Constitution and a fundamental core of its conventions,” says Harris.
UNTU calls upon the Courts as the Custodian of the Constitution not to continue to allow Government to disregard the rights of workers by simply ignoring collective agreements various state-owned enterprises entered.
“When UNTU signed the multiterm wage agreement, the Union waived the rights of its members to embark on industrial action. Prasa was adamant to secure a multiterm agreement to ensure a stabile working environment. In return Prasa committed itself to no retrenchments during the period.
“UNTU will leave no stone unturned to ensure that Prasa employees get the increase that is due to them,” says Harris.
Prof Dirk Kotzé, a Professor in Political Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA), says Government and its SOE’s is playing a “very dangerous game” by continuously ignoring collective agreements.
“It is unbelievably bad for labour law and the principals of law in general if we allow parties to dilute the principals of collective bargaining. Currently the collective bargaining process to achieve agreements are the most democratic, fair, and peaceful option, but if these agreements are ignored parties will seek other alternatives which will result in more conflict.”
According to Kotzé no parties should disregard a collective agreement by simply ignoring its terms, but rather return to the negotiating table to reopen negotiations if there are exceptional circumstances because it cannot be implemented.