/ 17 September 2009

Zuma: Unions can’t control the army

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday questioned the right of soldiers to belong to trade unions, saying this could put the country’s security at risk.

”You can imagine South Africa being attacked and soldiers having grievances and going on strike,” he told reporters at Tuynhuys in Cape Town.

”Soldiers are not like other workers … soldiers are different,” he said.

”It would be a very funny notion if we say that the security of the country rests with the unions.”

The president said the labour grievances of members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) must be resolved by the planned Military Service Commission.

”It will determine the norms and standards for the military, and will also regulate the conditions of service of members of the military,” he said.

Zuma, who is commander in chief of the armed forces, described the violent protest by soldiers at the Union Buildings last month as ”despicable in the extreme”.

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu), which is not recognised by the government as an official union, was demanding 30% salary increases, which Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu called ”deliberately provocative”.

”This potentially leaves our military bases unprotected and without sufficient numbers of soldiers available to assist the police as the need arises,” she said of the protest.

Cabinet has given its support to Sisulu’s decision to fire about 1 300 soldiers for taking part in the protest.

However, their immediate dismissal was blocked by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria last week.

Sandu wants notices declared unlawful
Sandu last Wednesday took Sisulu and the chief of the SANDF to court to stop its members from being dismissed and to declare the procedure adopted in dismissal notices served on them unconstitutional.

Sisulu undertook not to dismiss any of Sandu’s members as a result of the August 26 march, pending the finalisation of the union’s urgent application.

In terms of the settlement, the SANDF may also not remove any of the soldiers’ benefits, but may ”redeploy” them, provided they remain geographically in the same area.

This could include placing them on special leave on full pay, with the retention of their benefits.

The minister and chief of the defence force were given two months to file further papers in the application, whereafter Sandu will also be able to supplement its papers.

Sandu is seeking a court order declaring the August 30 dismissal notices — which gave its members just 10 days to supply reasons why they should not be dismissed summarily — unlawful and unconstitutional.

The union also wants the court to restrain the SANDF from dismissing the soldiers pending the finalisation of a dispute they intend referring to the Military Bargaining Council, or should it not be resolved, to the Military Arbitration Board.

In the alternative, the union wants the court to declare the procedure adopted in the notices unlawful and unconstitutional.

According to the notice, soldiers who participated in the August 26 march engaged in criminal activities, threatened the security of the country and were guilty of mutiny. — Sapa