Banking group Absa, a subsidiary of the UK’s Barclays Group plc, has notified the trade union Solidarity that it intends taking legal action in order to close down the webpage www.stopabsa.co.za which is part of Solidarity’s Stop Absa campaign.
The trade union launched the Stop Absa campaign earlier this week in reaction to what it called the bank’s controversial restructuring process which it claims has already led to several retrenchments.
According to a letter Solidarity received from Absa’s attorneys Adams & Adams in Pretoria, Absa plans to seek a High Court interdict in order to close down the Stop Absa webpage and to force the union to discontinue the use of an altered version of Absa’s slogan, Today, Tomorrow, Together, on the webpage.
According to Dirk Hermann, Deputy General Secretary of Solidarity, the trade union is considering changing the campaign’s slogan from “Today, Tomorrow, Goodbye”, to “Today, Tomorrow, To Court”.
“We are looking forward to seeing Absa in court to defend our constitutional right to freedom of speech and fair social comment. The Stop Absa campaign represents the voice of thousands of South Africans.
In the past 48 hours, the campaign had 369,774 followers on Twitter. This was the first time that a trade union’s campaign achieved the number one spot on the trending topics list in South Africa.
“An additional 40,000 people followed the campaign on Facebook. Approximately 1,500 people have already sent protest messages to the Chairman of Barclays in England. We cannot allow Absa to silence ordinary South Africans’ voices through the courts.
“We believe in protecting the right to open debate and not banning institutions that cause unease, like our webpage. We are entirely prepared to go to court to fight for this principle,” said Hermann.
South Africans can send protest messages to Barclays chairman Marcus Agius and Absa CEO Maria Ramos, via the webpage. A video in which two employees speak about how they were retrenched, made to clear out their desks and escorted outside in front of crying colleagues, can also be viewed on the webpage.
Absa meanwhile denied on Thursday that it is planning to retrench 3,000 staff.
It said there were no mass retrenchments being undertaken within the group.
“We continuously take feedback from our customers so that we can offer them first-class service. To achieve this, Absa needs to be organised to support the needs of clients.
“Absa has and will continue to evolve its systems and processes which sometimes lead to very limited job losses. Where possible, we will do this through natural attrition as evidenced by the reduction of 3,580 roles last year with retrenchments limited to 145. There is no plan to retrench 3,000 colleagues as widely reported,” the group asserted.