Employers have been urged to allow workforces to participate in Friday’s planned protests throughout the country calling for President Jacob Zuma’s head, but Business Unity SA (Busa) says supporting the demonstrations is at companies’ discretion.
However, civil society organisations, including non-governmental-organisation Section 27 and the #ZumaMustFallCampaign, appealed to businesses not to be impartial or penalise employees who do march. “At some point, business owners can no longer be impartial and sit on the sidelines with certain issues.
They have to stand up and be counted,” the campaign said. “Your business will be affected by the catastrophic rating downgrade, the blatant corruption in government and the accompanying abuses of power.”
Zuma’s axing of now former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his now former deputy Mcebisi Jonas, after which rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Global downgraded South Africa to junk status, have motivated the protests calling for him to step down.
“Every business relies on imported products, from petrol to computers, equipment – everything has an import cost somewhere,” the campaign said.
“You have the opportunity to show that your business does not support a corrupt government. If you can’t let staff take a few hours off to join protest marches, encourage them and join them in protesting in the morning in street pickets before work.”
Busa said the protests do not constitute labour protest action and are not covered by any of the labour laws and provisions. “If you wish to give employees the space to participate, it is recommended that leave is taken,” it said.
Advisory service Labourwise said that “assuming employers adopt a neutral stance”, they face several possible scenarios: employees who take leave to participate; those who stay away in support as they believe it’s their right; and those who take leave because they fear there’ll be disruptions to transport or violence.
“While the cause for the protest action is arguably one that workers have an interest… the process that would render it protected – in the sense that no disciplinary action may be taken against workers – has not been followed,” it added.