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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

South Africa Postal Unrest

The motto that appears on the South African Post Office press release page is "We deliver - whatever it takes". However, following several months of unrest, strikes, violence and pure vandalism, that is not the case and anyone thinking of sending Christmas parcels or indeed any type of post to South Africa should seriously consider how they send it - there is a much greater chance of delivery if it is sent through a courier company. Unrest in the post office started as early as 27th January 2014, and at the time of writing is still not resolved.

On the last day of January Mr Lungile Lose, SA Post Office’s Group Executive Corporate Affairs, stated that  the casual workers in mail sorting centres that had started an unprotected strike on Monday (27 January 2014) had not returned to work (an unprotected strike is one which that does not comply with the terms of South Africa's Labour Relations Act).  Striking casual workers were demanding that the SA Post Office employ them into permanent positions. This was not possible for reasons of affordability and operations; it was not possible to accommodate the demands of the striking employees as such a move will result in unstable financial consequences for the SA Post Office.  The total number of casual employees on strike was 1286 on this date.

On 4th February strikers had ignored their employer's final demand t return to their posts and a total of 1461 employees did not report for duty on that day. However the strike was resolved by arbitration on 11th February and striking workers returned to work on the following day. Further unrest occurred in late June that was quickly settled. However casual postal workers in Tshwane and the East Rand went on strike again on 18th August, supposedly because of the slow speed of conversion of some 900 casual workers into permanent (yet part time) positions. Striking workers received an ultimatum to return to work by 0800 on 22nd or face dismissal. At the same time the Post Office started to lay criminal charges in all cases where damage to property, intimidation or violence occurred, striking workers actions having been typified by intimidation and violence, by the blocking of workplaces, assaults on employees and wanton damage to property. A number of post offices and mail delivery depots had to be closed so as to ensure the safety of customers and employees. On 29th August the Post Office started issuing dismissal notices.

By 1st September a total of 473 casual and part-time employees that had taken part in the illegal strike had been dismissed, a Post Office spokesman stating that "All efforts to resolve the industrial action – which included negotiations, ultimatums and a Labour Court Interdict – came to nothing.  Therefore, the SA Post Office could not envisage of any other alternative but to dismiss the striking employees." The strike continued to spread and by 16th September after violent intimidation more than 80 post offices in the Johannesburg region were closed "for the safety of customers and employees".  A further 16 offices in Cape Town were closed as well as many others around the country, including Pretoria, Polokwane, Germiston and Benoni.

As of 16th October Negotiations to end the strike were continuing, and at that stage the Post Office had put several proposals on the table, which were then under discussion. In Bloemfontein, eight men were charged with common assault after they had allegedly assaulted and partly undressed a Post Office employee, who was on her way to work, at the local taxi rank. They are due to appear in court on 6th November.  Also in Bloemfontein, one person was charged with intimidation and he will also appear in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on 6th November. The Post Office’s security personnel continue to work closely with the SA Police, who are investigating a further 41 cases relating to the strike, including arson and assault.

As at the time of writing, mail in Gauteng Province (the Johannesburg, Pretoria and East Rand region) is currently delayed by around four weeks. The effects of this so called industrial action are far-reaching. For example chronic medication is not reaching patients, the University of South Africa (Unisa) has been forced to extend the dates for thousands of students to submit their assignments,  and direct marketing companies have been stuck with millions of pieces of mail.  — the South African Post Office is once again crippled by a strike.

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