Union fined for posting threatening strike action pictures on WhatsApp and Facebook

The dangers of posting on social media has taken an unusual turn with a South African labour union facing a steep fine for the content it posted on Facebook and WhatsApp.

According to Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s Samiksha Singh, the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural & Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) learned a tough lesson after embarking on a protected but acrimonious strike at Robertson Winery.

The union and the winery agreed on picketing rules which provided that the strikers conduct themselves in a peaceful and lawful manner and that they would not possess any weapons. Four days after the agreement was made an order of court, the union updated its Facebook account with photographs of its members carrying sticks, sjamboks and golf clubs.

Furthermore, the strikers chanted a song with the words ‘dubula Reinette’, which directly translates to “shoot Reinette”. Reinette is the Human Resources manager for Robertson Winery.

Robertson Winery raised this with the union and reminded them that the conduct was in contravention of the picketing rules and agreed terms of the court order.

The union maintained that there was nothing wrong with the song, but that the strikers would nevertheless to stop singing it.

Be careful of what you post

“On 8 October 2016, Robertson approached the Labour Court and sought to hold the union in contempt of the court order issued on 25 August 2016,” said Singh.

Robertson Winery alleged that the court order was not complied with in three respects,

  • Replacement labourers were prevented from going to work;
  • By chanting the song ‘shoot Reinette’; and
  • By uploading photographs on Facebook of strikers carrying dangerous weapons.

“In support of its application, Robertson Winery relied on the photographs uploaded to the union’s Facebook account and affidavits and WhatsApp messages from the replacement employees who were threatened and intimidated to not tender their services,” she said.

“In dealing with the allegations of intimidating replacement employees, the Labour Court highlighted that the purpose of picketing is to peacefully encourage non-striking employees to support the protected strike and that in doing so they must conduct themselves peacefully, unarmed and in a lawful manner.”

“The union was specifically restrained from inciting, instigating or promoting any unlawful conduct by its members. The Labour Court considered the affidavits and WhatsApp messages of the replacement employees which contained allegations that were met with bare denials by the union.”

In its judgement the court found that the social media evidence was clear proof and that the union’s denials were so far-fetched as to be instantly rejected.

Further, the song ‘shoot Reinette’ was a variation of a well-known struggle song which has been held to constitute hate speech and that an incitement to kill does not enjoy constitutional protection.

It also found that uploading of photos of employees carrying dangerous weapons on Facebook constituted a breach of the court order and picketing rules.

Because the strike was protected, the court’s Judge Steenkamp issued a 12 month suspended fine of R50,000 against the union.

“Certain individual members of the union were also found to be in contempt of court but no penalties were imposed on them,” said Singh.

Read: How SA insurers could use your social media posts to determine your premiums

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Union fined for posting threatening strike action pictures on WhatsApp and Facebook