17 November 2023
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) welcomes the Labour Court’s progressive ruling in favour of our affiliate, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU)’s challenge on the constitutional invalidity of the Municipal Systems Amendment Act.
The Labour Court has found the prohibition of all municipal employees from holding office in a political party to be unconstitutional and has awarded costs against government. This judgement is backdated to November 2022. Instructions by municipalities to employees to resign from any political office bearer positions they may hold or be dismissed, have been declared invalid.
The Municipal Systems Amendment Act of 2022 is fundamentally flawed, dangerous and simply unconstitutional. The Amendment Act introduced a new blanket ban on all 350 000 municipal employees from holding office at any level in a political party. This was a gross and shamefully unconstitutional assault on the right of freedom of political association and expression of not only municipal workers but in fact all workers.
The original draft of the Amendment Act agreed to by the ANC led Alliance and government and that was tabled at Parliament provided for a rational and limited restriction on the rights of political association to municipal managers and the senior managers reporting directly to them. These provisions were quietly and clumsily amended by Parliament on the instigation of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and extended to include all 350 000 municipal employees. This took it from being a narrow limitation of the rights of a few, to the blanket prohibition of constitutional rights of all municipal employees.
The motivation for the original limitation of rights of municipal managers was based upon the belief that when such managers held office in a political party they could undermine or overrule the Mayors and Mayoral Committees they account to. Extending this to include municipal security guards, cleaners, electricians and refuse collectors was ludicrous and a shocking attack on workers’ constitutional rights. If it had been allowed to stand, it would have been a gross undermining of the Constitution. It would have been a slippery slope to later be extended to all public servants, parastatal employees and eventually private sector workers. This would have been a dangerous eroding of our hard-won democracy.
Thousands of municipal employees have been receiving letters from their managers warning them that unless they resign from any position they may hold in a political party, they will be dismissed from their jobs.
COSATU raised this matter repeatedly with the Minister for Cooperative Governance, the ANC and Parliament who to their shame, failed to act in defence of workers’ rights.
SAMWU previously took an earlier version of this Amendment Act to the Constitutional Court and won. We are pleased that the Labour Court has again found in favour of SAMWU in this defence of workers’ hard-won constitutional rights. We hope that COGTA and SALGA will now spend some time familiarising themselves with the Constitution and embrace its progressive ethos.
Issued by COSATU
For further comment please contact:
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687