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Tiso Blackstar strike could ‘severely disrupt’ Zondo commission

The Zondo commission has been warned that striking journalists at its venue — the Tiso Blackstar offices in Parktown, Johannesburg — could disrupt its upcoming hearings into allegations of state capture.

In a letter to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the Information Communication Technology Union (ICTU) has requested to meet “to engage on alternative arrangements for your commission proceedings”.

“Given the premise of our consideration, we are aware that your commission shares the same premises with the Tiso Blackstar group,” the letter reads. “As planned our protected strike will … possibly render your commission severely disrupted.”

The letter, signed by ICTU president Moeketsi Lepheana, says the union wishes to “avert unintended consequences”.

ICTU, which reportedly represents about 200 Tiso Blackstar employees, characterises itself as a “very considerate and law-abiding organisation” in the opening lines of the letter.

The union’s deputy president Origenius Mogoatlhe said on Wednesday: “In the spirit of being responsible, we understand that currently the state capture commission is a national key point and we cannot just willy nilly just disrupt proceedings there.”

On Monday, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) granted the union a certificate to strike at Tiso Blackstar. Workers at the media group — which owns the Sunday Times, Sowetan, Business Day, Financial Mail and Daily Dispatch — are now preparing to strike over the nonpayment of bonuses in the coming weeks.

According to Lepheana, the union has worked out the logistics of the strike which he says is set down to begin next week. Early industrial action at the Tiso Blackstar offices will involve a picket and a go slow, but will culminate in a full-blown strike on March 28, Lepheana told the Mail & Guardian.

ICTU is expecting that civil society formations and the union’s fellow South African Federation of Trade Unions affiliates will join the industrial action in support of the striking journalists.

The union is currently battling to be recognised by the media group. ICTU and the company are at odds on whether or not the union’s membership constitutes the necessary 10% of Tiso Blackstar’s workforce for it to be recognised. The parties are scheduled to meet this Friday at the CCMA to iron out this issue.

Mogoatlhe called the matter of union recognition a “non-issue”. “The issue is that Tiso Blackstar has been exploiting workers for a long time now and we are trying by all means to resolve that,” he told the M&G.

In an internal email, Tiso Blackstar managing director Andy Gill alerted employees to the looming strike, outlining the picketing rules for the industrial action.

“As a company, we respect the right to freedom of association and the right to strike, but would like to inform staff of certain key elements of the process,” the email reads.

According to the email, the company is considering “employing external resources should the strike action necessitate such measures”.

The company is also employing the no work, no pay principle to those participating in the strike. Strikers will need to pay monthly contributions to the medical aid and provident fund “in the event of any shortfall resulting from a prolonged strike period”, Gill’s email says.

“I would like to make it clear that the company has no obligation to pay bonuses outside the widely communicated bonus scheme rules,” the email reads.

“Moreover the decision to freeze salary increases was based entirely on performance … We continue to face major cost pressures from out of our control such as newsprint and distribution.”

In January, Tiso Blackstar staff expressed their disappointment with the announcement that their salaries would be freezed in a letter to the company’s management.

“We are deeply undermined as professionals … Those who work in the company’s newsrooms know very well that some of our colleagues have gone to the extent of risking their safety in order to deliver cutting edge news content,” the letter reads.

The letter adds: “The pain has been felt more by black colleagues who are paid less than their white counterparts.”

Despite repeated attempts to reach him, Gill was not available for comment at the time of writing. The story will be updated once he is reached for comment.

The Zondo commission had not responded to the M&G’s request for comment at the time of writing. But Zondo has in recent weeks been at pains to ensure that the momentum of the hearings continues unabated.

The commission has until March 2020 to complete its work.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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