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What to do when employees go on an unprotected strike

by , 14 May 2013
Workers at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana have gone on a wildcat strike. The miners' actions follow the weekend killing of an organiser from rival union Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. As a result, 13 of the mine shafts have been shut, bringing production at the mine to a halt. Do you know what to do when your employees go on an unprotected strike? Read on to find out how to minimise the impact of strike action in your company.

Strikes can have a number of unpleasant consequences for your company, including financial loss. That's why you need to know how to respond when your employees resort to strike action to minimise the damage it causes.

Generally, there are certain procedural requirements that should be complied with before your employees embark upon a protected strike. But, what happens when these procedures aren't followed and they go in an unprotected strike?

Here's how to deal with an unprotected strike

If your employees don't follow the procedures their strike isn't protected. This means they aren't protected from dismissal.

It also means that as an employer, you can approach the Labour Court for an urgent interdict to prevent them from continuing with the strike.

If employees continue to strike despite an interdict, you can start thinking about dismissal.

Although 'you don't have to first get an interdict before you consider dismissal, it is usually best to do so, as this places you in a stronger position to defend the fairness of the dismissal,' advises the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service.

What classifies as a procedurally fair dismissal?

To effect a procedurally fair dismissal of striking employees, you're obliged to follow a fair procedure.

This means you must:

  • Issue a written ultimatum to striking employees to return to work or face dismissal. The written ultimatum must be clear. You must ensure it's conveyed in such a manner that the employees understand that, in effect, they're being warned to return to work or face dismissal. It's also important that you give employees' sufficient time to respond to the ultimatum. Also keep in mind that if the employees are represented by a union, you must advise the union of the ultimatum and seek their intervention.
  • Give your employees a hearing before you decide finally to dismiss them.  In past instances, 'the Labour Appeal Court has held that it is not enough to give employees an ultimatum to return to work,' says the Loose Leaf. If your employees don't adhere to the ultimatum, you must give them a chance to be heard before you dismiss because there may be a good reason why they haven't adhered to the ultimatum.

There you have it! These are your options should your employees embark on an unprotected strike, use them to help your company minimise the impact of the strike action.

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