South African bank workers were blocked from participating in what would have been the industry’s biggest strike in almost a century as labor unions protest against job losses.
Unions failed to comply with rules allowing demonstrations and those who down tools will have no protection, Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker said in her ruling in the Johannesburg-based Labour Court on Thursday. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the nation’s largest labor federation, and its affiliate, the South African Society of Bank Officials, said they will appeal the ruling.
“We’re going to continue to mobilize our members against the exploitation, against the continuation of retrenchments both in the banks’ sector, but also in the manufacturing, in the mining, in the farming area,” Cosatu Deputy General Secretary Solly Phetoe told reporters outside the courthouse. The march is suspended and not canceled, he said. “This is the beginning of the struggle.”
The ruling threatens to also derail plans by Cosatu for a national shutdown on Oct. 7, Sasbo General Secretary Joe Kokela said. The organizations will resubmit a notice for the nationwide strike, he said. In the meantime, members will be urged to work on Friday. The demonstrations, which the labor organizations said would have drawn as many as 50,000 workers, were aimed at lenders that have consulted staff over job cuts in recent months. Some South African banks, such as Standard Bank Group Ltd., Absa Group Ltd.and Nedbank Group Ltd. have reduced branch networks and reorganized other units as they digitize their operations. The companies are also seeking ways to lower costs as they contend with slow economic growth.
South Africa’s six largest banks employed 152,441 people in 2018, compared with 148,500 in 2015, according to Banking Association South Africa. Strong growth in smaller institutions and financial-technology companies means the industry is still expanding, it said, adding that lenders are trying to reduce job cuts through natural attrition or reskilling existing staff. A “few hundred employees” are at risk of losing their jobs, the association said in a Sept. 23 statement.
Business Unity South Africa, a separate lobby group, had brought the application to interdict the protest on grounds that Cosatu and Sasbo had relied on a notice filed to the National Economic Development and Labour Council two years ago. South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 29% in the second quarter, the highest level in at least 11 years.The six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index rallied after the ruling, gaining as much as 2.9% in Johannesburg to pare losses this year 1.5%. Standard Bank led gains, jumping 3.2%.