Once a powerful force in the media industry, the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (Mwasa) has now been stripped of its status as a trade union.
According to a government notice dated July 30, labour registrar Lehohonolo Molefe has decided to cancel Mwasa’s registration.
The registrar can deregister trade unions if they fail to comply with their constitutions and the parts of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) that govern them. If a trade union is deregistered, it loses organisational rights and the right to represent its members.
Mwasa, which was established as a union for black journalists in the late 1970s, has about 3 000 members — a far cry from the 17 000 members the union boasted in its heyday.
The union — which was previously known as the Writers Association of South Africa — stepped in after the Union of Black Journalists was banned by the apartheid government in 1977.
The union’s general secretary, Tuwani Gumani, told the Mail & Guardian this week that this is not the first attempt to deregister Mwasa. He said the organisation believes there “was a sinister political decision designed to muzzle an independent Mwasa”, which led to the union having to re-register with the department of labour in In 2013.
“This time around, the national executive committee of Mwasa noted that, from a management point of view, the resource costs of running Mwasa increasingly outweighed its capacity to meet growing obligations to the fast shrinking numbers of members across the media sector,” Gumani said, adding that the union relied on membership subscription fees to fund its obligations to members.
He said the union is increasingly representing victims of unfair dismissals and retrenchments.
“Litigation is increasingly the preferred mode of dispute resolution in this country,” Gumani said.
“Mwasa is sustaining individual cases that involve substantial numbers of applicants each, with several matters remaining unresolved before the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] and courts as far back as 2012.”
Molefe told the M&G that Mwasa’s registration had been cancelled because the union had failed to submit its financial statements since its inception in 2013.
“So all the requirements that we expect of them, they have not done a single one of them,” Molefe said.
He said the cancellation of Mwasa’s registration has been a long time coming.
Molefe said that his office wrote to Mwasa on July 11 requesting the union to comply with the relevant sections of the LRA. The union was given a week to give the registrar an indication of their willingness to engage on the various challenges faced by the union.
“The response that we got was that we are attending to the issues and that they will then try by all means to some of the issues that we have raised in the letter,” he said.
“But they did not do anything of the sort.”
Gumani disputed this, saying that there have been continuous engagement with the department of employment and labour over the past few months. “Mwasa has made several submissions regarding interventions the union was undertaking in response to the threat to cancel deregistration,” he said.
“Our auditors have not been able to conclude their commissioned work before the cancellation. It would be pointless to hastily organise an expensive elective congress without access to the audits outstanding,” he said.
One of the interventions proposed by the union was the transfer its members to another South African Federation of Trade Unions-aligned union operating in the same sector, Gumani said.
He added that the department “insisted on cancellation nevertheless”.
Molefe explained that the decision of the registrar is final, unless the union launches an appeal at the labour court.
He has previously denied accusations of political interference on his part.