Local telecommunications company Telkom and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are locked in a bitter battle over continuing strike action.
Hundreds of Telkom staff have launched strike action against the company over a pay dispute. The CWU, which is behind the strike, says Telkom workers need a cost-of-living inflation linked salary increase.
But a dispute over alleged violent strike action and the sabotage of Telkom’s nationwide network, which has disrupted services for over 13 000 customers, has dogged the labour action.
Telkom, in a statement on Sunday, slammed the CWU for allegedly blockading entry and exit points at the company’s facilities, intimidating workers and damaging equipment.
Telkom further alleged that a CWU protester hurled a brick through a non-striking employee’s car window in Randburg while technicians in the Western Cape have reportedly received threatening text messages from the union.
“These incidents are examples of ongoing acts of intimidation by the CWU and the spike in sabotage is related to this industrial action,” Telkom’s Group Executive for Communications, Jacqui O’Sullivan, said in the statement.
“These are not random acts of vandalism or incidents of cable theft. These people know where to go and what to do to wreak maximum damage. This is in-house,” said O’Sullivan.
Union fights back
But the CWU has hit back at Telkom as the union has distanced itself from allegations of sabotage and violence.
On the issue of sabotage, CWU’s Secretary General Aubrey Tshabalala denied that striking workers are damaging equipment.
Instead, Tshabalala said that Telkom is to blame for these issues amid claims that the company’s skilled staff have gone on strike.
“Telkom is failing to respond to technical faults and any other things as swift as they can as they normally do,” Tshabalala told Fin24 by phone.
“All those who are on the inside; they are unable to deal with the challenges of Telkom,” he said.
Regarding allegations of blocking entrances and exits at Telkom facilities, Tshabalala said that the telecoms company failed to help formulate picketing rules for the strike.
“We are picketing in front of Telkom. There is no demarcation in terms of picketing rules. Telkom refused to enter into that space and therefore you cannot tell us in a substantial case where we can demarcate,” Tshabalala told Fin24.
“To us all this must not be defined as violence. It can be defined as a militant strike; it is a militant strike.
“If they thought that a strike would be a Christmas party…they’ve got it all wrong,” said Tshabalala.
‘Attack’ on workers
The CWU has also denied allegations of violence against non-striking staff and said that, instead, its members have been targeted and harmed.
“Our member was ran over by a car of Telkom. While we were sitting in consultation, he was then arrested to say that he was intimidating,” Tshabalala told Fin24.
“That is a blunt attack on workers,” Tshabalala said.
Meanwhile, Tshabalala said that the CWU and Telkom management are expected to meet on Monday afternoon over the ongoing strike action.
And prior to this meeting, CWU has threatened that the strike action could last for a long period of time.
“When we go on strike, we are not that union [that] after two or three days we go back to work,” Tshabalala told Fin24.”We pull a strike until you collapse – even if it takes us months; we are ready. We have told Telkom we are ready,” he said.