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Numsa strike gets violent! But can you hold unions liable for damage to property and intimidation?

by , 08 July 2014
'Vandalism', 'intimidation' and 'violence.'

This is what's characterised the ongoing wage strike by National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members.

Last week, business owners in Gauteng told Eye Witness News that they've resorted to locking their staff members inside to protect them from striking Numsa members. And one woman said striking workers poured acid inside their offices.

Numsa has meanwhile rejected the claims of violence, vandalism and intimidation. It says these claims are a cheap ploy to undermine its struggle for a living wage.

As the strike enters its second week, it's likely that violence and vandalism will escalate. So where does this leave you as an employer? Can you hold the unions liable for the damage to property? Read on to find out.

Yes, you can hold unions liable for damage to property – this case law proves it

In 2012, a Constitutional Court ruling set a legal precedent by holding unions responsible for damages when strikes turn into riots, resulting in violence, vandalism and looting.

The matter was between the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), several car owners, traders and the the City of Cape Town (the city joined as an intervening party) over damages to municipal and private property caused during a 2006 security guard strike in the Cape Town city centre.

The judgement against Satawu meant that the union was liable for an estimated bill of R1.5 million in damages.

Take a look at more details of the case.

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Here are the details of the case proving you can hold unions liable for damage caused during a strike

According to an iol report, Satawu first took the matter to the Western Cape High Court which found the union liable for damages.

The Supreme Court of Appeal later upheld the High Court's decision, and the union took it further to the Constitutional Court, which also upheld the decision.

In the judgment, the court found that the Regulation of Gatherings Act afforded victims effective recourse when a gathering became destructive and resulted in injury, loss of property or life.

Delivering his ruling, 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. Because of this, the organisations would be in a better position than innocent victims to identify individuals or institutions which caused the damage.'

This judgment proves that you can hold unions liable for damages caused during a strike. Just know that this isn't an easy task. Unions often blame the damage on 'criminal elements'. Another point to remember is that you'll have to fork out a lot of money in legal costs. But knowing that the law is on your side is the first step to enforcing your rights.

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