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The questions we get asked a lot: "Isn't it illegal to turn off the water?" “May essential workers strike?”

Since strikes in essential services are unprotected under the Labor Relations Act, participating employees may be fired for misconduct, and both unions and employees may be liable for tortious and contractual damages. The Labor Court can also prohibit strikes in essential services or any act in furtherance of such strikes, which, if ignored, could potentially lead to contempt proceedings. However, employers (municipality) did not take these actions in practice for fear of inciting the unions and further acts of violence and intimidation. Furthermore, no other penalties - administrative or criminal - can be imposed against striking employees. In practice, apart from a loss of remuneration (they have received no remuneration for 3 months anyway!), essential services employees therefore have little to fear when they strike.

If however, the water supply to the community is willfully shut off, another set of rules come into play. Since the non-payment of salaries and the failure of MLM to pay over deducted pension fund- and other contributions have been ongoing for so long, the frustration among the workers and their engaging in an unprotected strike is quite understandable; as are their threats to further disrupt services such as water supply. However, and Constitutional Rights aside, the intentional disruption of water supply to communities and businesses is a serious offense in terms of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act 8 of 2019, and cannot be tolerated.

The municipality has a constitutional obligation to provide water and other services – the reason for Mafube Business Forum’s High Court application that was heard in Bloemfontein on 25 May this year. The judgement is imminent and will put us in a better position to intervene and bring about sustainable solutions.

Visit our offices at 18A Church Street, Frankfort on Mondays to Thursdays from 08h30 to 16h00 and Fridays 08h30 to 12h00. Call or send a WhatsApp message to Marina on 079 145 4295. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook.

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