Trade Unions Can Be Held Liable

If unions and their members do not adhere to the strike procedures prescribed bylaw, the union may be held liable for damages suffered by the employer, members of the public and anyone else because of the strike.

The Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 sets out the procedure to be followed before trade unions can embark on industrial action.

The labour court has on numerous occasions awarded compensation to an employer for loss suffered due to the negligent conduct of a trade union.

In a recent judgment, the court held that the following requirements prescribed in section 68(1)(b) must be satisfied before it would be in a position to award damages for loss arising out of a strike:

  • The strike must not comply with the provisions of the Act, thus must be unprotected;
  • The applicant (employer) must have suffered loss;
  • The party against whom the relief is sought must have participated in the strike or committed acts to further it.

The yardstick used to determine the compensation to be paid is "justified and equitable". Therefore the amount paid for damages may not be equal to the total amount of damages suffered.

In awarding damages, the court will take into account the total number of members of the trade union, as well as the amount of the subscriptions paid by their members.

So trade unions are advised to follow the prescribed procedure before instituting strikes or their bank balances may be affected.

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