Three members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) involved in a national baggage handlers strike were arrested on Wednesday after they allegedly assaulted six non-striking workers of Equity Aviation Services on Monday.
Equity Aviation Services spokesperson Herman Fleischman said six staff were ”badly beaten on their way to work [at Johannesburg International airport] and had been confronted at gunpoint on Monday”.
The assailants were ”identified as striking members and Satawu shop stewards in our employ”, said Fleischman.
”We laid charges with the police on Tuesday and we heard on Wednesday that the police had arrested them for assault.”
He said police had also raided the picketing area at Johannesburg International airport on Wednesday.
”There were people with firearms in the picketing area. The police apparently raided the area this morning and confiscated several firearms.
”According to the picketing rules, when you’re in a picketing area it is against the law to have arms in your possession.”
Fleischman pointed out that the company had nothing to do with the raid as it took place on Airports Company South Africa property.
”If people are resorting to aggressive methods, we support the police in their action to ensure this doesn’t happen,” he said.
”We have now employed a private security firm to look after the interests of our working people,” he said.
Police were not available to confirm the arrests.
Fleischman also said: ”There have been people who embarked on the strike who were not Satawu members, which meant the strike was not recognised, and made it an illegal strike for them.
”We followed normal company procedure to notify them the strike was illegal and that they must come back to work within a certain time. Some returned but for the others we followed the normal disciplinary procedure.”
Fleischman did not know how many workers were dismissed.
Earlier the African National Congress urged the two parties to the strike — now in its 20th day — to return to the negotiating table.
ANC spokesperson Steyn Speed said in a statement: ”The ANC urges the parties — in the interests of the company and the workers — to return to the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration [CCMA] to once again seek a resolution to the main issues of dispute.”
Satawu spokesperson Evan Abrahamse said he welcomed the ANC’s comments, but at the moment no talks were taking place.
”We are willing to talk to try to resolve it, as we have been attempting to resolve the strike. But at the moment we are dealing with a number of other issues,” he said.
He said these issues included the alleged dismissal of some striking workers by Equity Aviation Services and the arrest of three Satawu members.
The two parties were in talks at the CCMA on Friday, but ”they were a failure”, he said.
Fleischman said: ”On Friday Satawu arrived for talks with no mandate. They indicated they would consult over the weekend and come back to us on Monday. We have heard nothing as yet but we have an open door.”
Some of the matters in dispute were working hours and salary increases.
Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) spokesperson Patrick Craven called on members to join the picket lines at all the major airports in a demonstration of solidarity.
He said: ”Cosatu is calling for its members to show solidarity with the Satawu strikers by attending mass pickets on Saturday from 10am to noon (except Durban).”
Craven said there would also be a mass picket later in January at Equity Aviation Services’ head office in Bedfordview.
The Solidarity union had also come out in support of Satawu and asked its members to stop performing the duties of Satawu’s striking members.
Spokesperson Dirk Hermann said: ”Solidarity represents approximately 40% of the supervisors who currently handle passengers’ baggage while Satawu members are on strike.
”The strike is causing widespread disruption in baggage handling at the Johannesburg and Cape Town airports. Should Solidarity members stop performing the duties of the striking workers, more disruption will be caused to the baggage systems.”
Fleischman said: ”Solidarity have not consulted with us at all and we do not recognise them as a union. If they decide to down tools and believe they have support to down tools, it will be illegal.” — Sapa