Satawu ruling welcomed

2012-06-14 15:45

Johannesburg - A number of organisations welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling holding trade union Satawu liable for a riot damage claim.

The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Thursday that unions should be financially responsible for damage caused during protests.

"Sacci members have experienced the consequences of inappropriate behaviour during strike action... and as such... feel strongly that the right to protest must be balanced against responsible behaviour and property rights," Sacci chief executive Neren Rau said in a statement.

"In the current economic circumstances, restoration of property damaged by protest action is a cost that neither the public nor private sector can afford."

Earlier, the United Association of SA (Uasa) said the ruling against the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) would ensure accountability among unions.

"At Uasa, strict discipline is a priority, especially during strike action," the trade union's spokesperson André Venter said in a statement.

"We realise that literally anything can happen in such a volatile situation and that emotions can easily get out of hand. For this reason we ensure that our marshals are properly briefed and equipped to ensure discipline among the crowd."

The ruling was welcomed by Business Unity SA on Wednesday.

"This provides legal certainty to business in cases where public gatherings become destructive and result in injury, loss of property or life," it said in a statement.

The ruling was also hailed by Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, while the Democratic Alliance called the ruling a "massive victory".

"For too long, Cosatu (the Congress of SA Trade Unions) and its affiliates have been allowed to engage in violent and chaotic strikes without any repercussions," DA MP Ian Ollis said in a statement.

However, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) expressed disappointment at the ruling.

"The FXI is (however) encouraged that the judgment recognises the importance of the right to assemble, by stating that the right to freedom of assembly is central to our democracy."

The court ruled on Wednesday that Satawu was responsible for damages caused during a march by security guards in Cape Town, in May 2006.

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

"The organisations are intimately involved in the planning, supervision, and execution of the gathering, but the potential victims are not," Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said in the ruling.

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

He said the union had the opportunity of a "soft landing" if it could track down those responsible for the damage caused during the protest and recoup its loss from them.

The union appealed twice against the decision and was turned down on both occasions.