/ 21 April 2006

Guards threaten to disrupt Freedom Day celebrations

Protesting security guards have threatened to disrupt next week’s Freedom Day celebrations at Pretoria’s Union Buildings if their 11% wage demand is not met, their leader said on Friday.

”We are saying there can be no Freedom Day celebrations while there are people who are oppressed,” said Jackson Simon, the security coordinator at the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu).

He said union members were frustrated by Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana’s response to their letter on the strike. ”We have received no response from him. He just sent us a letter acknowledging receipt of our letter,” Simon said, adding that the minister has been ”ignorant” to Satawu’s issues.

Gauteng housing provincial minister Nomvula Mokonyane is expected to speak at the celebrations in Pretoria while President Thabo Mbeki will deliver a speech at Kimberley’s Galeshewe stadium.

The Satawu guards planned action following weeks of protest, which has divided the 14 unions in the security sector. Most unions signed an agreement with employers agreeing to an 8% wage increase, but Satawu’s members rejected it, effectively stalling talks on the matter.

Satawu, later joined by its mother body, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, has been calling on Mdladlana to help solve the dispute.

”Cosatu fully supports the strike and the legitimate demands being made by these low-paid and exploited workers. We are adamant that Satawu, which has more members in the sector than all the other unions combined, is the true voice of the security workers, and must be party to any settlement. Already a number of workers have been injured and even killed.

”If the strike is not resolved soon it will have very serious negative consequences for the whole country,” Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said this week.

On Thursday, police fired rubber bullets at 600 striking guards at the Kaalfontein station between Pretoria and Johannesburg.

”These people were on a train to go to the … security march in Johannesburg, but they started harassing and intimidating other passengers, so police fired rubber bullets at them,” North Rand policing area spokesperson Superintendent Eugene Opperman said.

”They also threw objects at police and were very unruly. Police took them off the train at Kaalfontein station and put them onto another train back to Pretoria.”

Satawu accused police of preventing the striking guards from participating in the march to Springbok Fidelity offices in Robertsville, west of Johannesburg.

On Friday, Simon said a large number of guards had staged a demonstration at the company’s Robertsville offices. — Sapa