Numsa goes to court over right to picket on 27-28 February outside offices of the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa)

Numsa goes to court over right to picket on 27-28 February outside offices of the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa)
24 February 2014

In the next 48-hours, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) will go the High Court on an urgent basis to seek an order that declares lawful the 18-hour picket that the union plans to hold from 18h00 on Wednesday 27 until 12.00 on Thursday 28 February outside the offices of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) in in Kulawula House, 526 Madiba (former Vermeulen) Street, Arcadia in Pretoria.

Up to now, the South African Police Services (SAPS) and City of Tshwane Metropolitan Police Services have been unable to pronounce on the lawfulness of Numsa’s action outside Nersa offices, although the union has applied for a permit in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (ROGA) No. 205 of 1993.

The picket outside Nersa offices is part of Numsa’s campaign against the Eskom’s application for a16% average annual increase between 2013 and 2018. The picket on the 27 and 28 February will include an all-night candlelight vigil on the evening of the 27th and a morning protest action on the 28th of February.

Bishop Paul Verryn and Reverend Purity Malinga of the Methodist Church will officiate at the night vigil that starts at 19h00. Joining them on the night will be the General Secretary of the Congress of South African of Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi.

Since the beginning of the month, Numsa has been mobilising its members as well as members of allied organisations around Gauteng to attend the picket. The union plans to bus its shopstewards to Pretoria when they knock-off from work on Wednesday 27 February.

Why do we plan to picket outside Nersa offices?
On Thursday 28 February, Nersa will announce whether it grants Eskom the 16% average annual increases over the next five years that the electricity utility has asked for. According to law, it is Nersa that determines prices of electricity, piped-gas and petroleum.

Since January, Numsa has gone to all provincial public hearings that Nersa convened. We made oral presentations inside the hearings and picketed outside the venues where the hearings were held. We made it clear that the proposed 16% increase will:

• lead to job losses and factory closures,

• lead to increases in food prices, transport costs and prices of other consumer goods.

Many other organisations, including employer associations have agreed with our objections to Eskom’s 16% application. The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) agrees with us that a 16% increase is not good for the economy, for workers and for the poor.

With the public hearings over, the ball is now in the hands of Nersa. Numsa’s demands are clear:

• Nersa should not grant Eskom the 16% increase

• Eskom should be given an inflation-related increase which must be three years and not five years

• We must use the next three years to come up with an alternative model for funding electricity generation.

With all the evidence presented on how disastrous the electricity price hikes will be, as Numsa we call on Nersa regulators NOT to act as if they are Eskom shopstewards and only think about the electricity utility.

The regulators must think of workers, poor people and the country as a whole. This is the message that we are taking to Nersa. This is what the Electricity Pricing Policy requires. Nersa was not established to look after the interests of Eskom but to balance the needs of the electricity supply industry and the country’s economic development.

Why are we going to court?
For the last two weeks, Numsa has been negotiating without success with South African Police Services (SAPS) and City of Tshwane Metropolitan Police Services to grant Numsa a permit to protest outside Nersa offices. Our negotiators with SAPS and the City of Tshwane have been sent from pillar to post.

As a union, we have been told that the action of the two days should be dealt separately with the City of Tshwane dealing with the picket on 28 February and SAPS dealing with the night vigil. We have also been told that Nersa offices fall under the apartheid legislation called the National Key Points Act 102 of 1980.

It is NUMSA’s belief that the fact that the action will occur over two days and that the first part of the protest will be held at night is irrelevant. As a union we are also angered by the fact that an old apartheid legislation that has not been amended is being revoked to deny our members their hard-won constitutional right to gather, assemble, picket and protest.

Passed in 1980, the National Key Points Act gives the Minister of Police very broad authority to “declare” any place in South Africa a national key point “if it appears to the Minister at any time that any place or area is so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic, or whenever he considers it necessary or expedient for the safety of the Republic or in the national interest”.

The Act also gives the Minister powers to enforce security measures at such places (whether at the cost of the state or the private owner) and to allow for the appropriation of funds into a special account for securing national key points.

Numsa is of the opinion that the Act is vague and most probably unconstitutional. Just last week in the discussion in parliament on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation (SONA) address, the Deputy-Minister of Public Works and Deputy-General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) Jeremy Cronin agreed with the characterisation of the National Key Points Act as a "dastardly apartheid legislation".

Cde Cronin stated that parliament needs “to look at this anachronistic and problematic piece of legislation”. He, like Numsa argued that the piece of legislation that is being used to deny our members the right to picket outside Nersa offices “may well be unconstitutional”.

As indicated above, the union will NOT fold its arms while the rights that we fought for so hard, such as our right to picket are being trampled on. Our lawyers are busy drafting papers with the intention to approach the High Court so as to receive an order that declares our action on 27-28 February lawful.

We are further taking the matter of constitutionality of the National Key Points Act to central executive committee (CEC) of Cosatu that starts tomorrow, Monday 25 February.

Numsa calls on its members not to be deterred by the actions of SAPS and the City of Tshwane. They must make their way to Nersa offices when they finish work on Wednesday 27 February. They must also negotiate for time-off for Thursday 28 February. Transport to Pretoria will leave Numsa local offices around Gauteng at 17h30.

Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary – 073 157 6384