CWU seeks urgent court interdict against Telkom over job losses

Read time 4min 10sec
Telkom group CEO Sipho Maseko.
Telkom group CEO Sipho Maseko.

Trade union Communication Workers Union (CWU) has launched an urgent court application to interdict Telkom from implementing new organisational structure until it complied with a “fair labour process”.

The union claims 200 additional jobs will be lost if the plan is executed in its current form, worsening the unemployment crisis engulfing the country.

This year alone, Telkom has laid off 2 000 people, and the CWU is accusing the telecommunications company of violating labour rules to continue sacking people.

The latest battle for jobs at Telkom comes on the back of increased job losses in the telecoms sector in SA.

The CWU says with the new organisational structure unveiled to workers on 7 August, Telkom is seeking to have an individual, in some cases, do a job that was normally done by three people, which will result in further job losses.

In the court paper filed with the court last week, the CWU says it wants Telkom to be interdicted from “conducting interviews, short-listing and appointing candidates for the posts advertised” which closed last week.

It adds: “According to the proposed new organisational structure, the number of employees likely to be affected is 2 384, the opportunities available are 2 164 and the reduction will be 220.”

Additionally, the union says: “It was further indicated that employees who are affected can only apply for two posts and if not successful in those applications, the employee will not be placed in the respondent’s workplace and are barred from applying for any other post.”

The labour court will hear arguments on 1 September.

In January, the telecommunications giant announced its intention cut up to 3 000 jobs, and this was then followed by a consultation process involving the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

At the consultation, Telkom then proposed it was open to employees applying for severance packages. However, the CWU opposed this, saying “it was premature as the parties were still dealing with rationality of the retrenchments in terms of Section 189A of the Labour Relations Act (LRA)”.

Notwithstanding the deadlock between the parties, Telkom proceeded to invite employees to apply for the severance packages and 2 200 applied and were granted the packages.

CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala tells ITWeb that the union has approached the court because “there is a malicious intent to purge people” at Telkom.

“The Section 189 process is being violated; Telkom is bullying its way to purge people they don’t want. There is no rationale for Telkom to retrench. Sipho Maseko [Telkom CEO] and his management are weakening Telkom for profit. If we let them continue, it [Telkom] will be at the same levels of South African Airways in the near future.”

According to Tshabalala: “The company structure has kept on changing. What we had in March is not what we are having now.”

Moreover, he says the union received with shock the news that the company has already issued notices of termination to the affected workers.

“The last consultation (Section 189 of the LRA) held on 5 March 2020 before the lockdown, under the auspices of the CCMA, recommended that parties should go to a workshop to properly explain and clarify organised labour about the new structure.

“This did not mean that parties must agree but understand the detailed technicalities arising from the company’s rationale.”

Tshabalala explains further: “In our last meeting held on 7 August 2020, organised labour expressed its appetite to make contributions and give alternatives in our quest to avert the retrenchments.

“We also made emphasis that our questions of clarity were not inputs but a necessary process that will create an environment for conducive discussions. We were under the impression that areas of concern are going to be addressed prior to the desktop exercise.

“We have a view that the company has an obligation to respond to our concerns, alternatives and inputs and we then ink these issues. Though it said that labour court is an option, we feel that for now, these obstacles can be addressed.”

Telkom hadn’t responded to a request for comment by the time of publishing.

At Telkom, the affected jobs include support employees, specialist and operational employees, and supervisory and management levels in its wholesale division Openserve.

Since the beginning of the year, the country has experienced massive job losses.

Stats SA recently revealed that unemployment in South Africa rose to 30.1% in the first quarter of 2020. In the quarter, employment decreased by 38 000 to 16.4 million.

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