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The Simunye Workers Forum (SWF) has described the Labour Court ruling on its registration as a union as a major breakthrough for modern union organising of precarious workers. Following a fierce standoff with the registrar of unions last week at the court, SWF is having the last laugh as the court handed down a judgement yesterday ordering that it must be registered as a union and be granted a certificate reflecting this within 14 days. The registrar refused to register SWF as a union due to multiple misunderstandings: of their constitution, how records like minutes are kept, how elections are conducted, how representatives of SWF are held accountable for finances, and of their relationship to the Casual Workers Advisory Office (CWAO). Now the court has found all these reasons not a factor to deny SWF registration. CWAO played a pivotal role behind the formation of Simunye and remains a pillar of support to the forum

According to Sidney Moshoaziba of the CWAO, this judgement is not just historic but a major breakthrough for a modern union of precarious workers, who are made vulnerable due to the nature of their work. They are casual workers, temporarily employed by infamous labour brokers. They are not well represented and subjected to severe exploitation at their workplaces. “This judgement means now we will be able to enter workplaces without any fear. We will be able to go to the CCMA and represent the workers. We will be able to bargain with the employers on behalf of the workers. Now we will be recognised and enjoy all the organisational rights. Bosses will now take us serious,” says Moshoaziba.

He adds: “This union will be different from traditional unions in terms of how we conduct our affairs relating to administration, office bearers, meetings, conferences and subscriptions. This is one of the reasons we could not be registered. I’m happy that has been cleared.” He says traditional unions are decaying, that they can no longer be trusted with workers’ issues since their leadership have been captured by capitalists and are only money- and power-hungry. Simunye, he insists, is not going to be like that.

“This is long overdue. In fact there was no need [for the matter] to reach this far. Our case has always been clear that we only want to be represented and be protected as per the constitution of the country. To achieve this feat it’s a nice feeling indeed. On the 24th we are going to a mass meeting and I can tell you without a doubt that our colleagues are going to feel the same,” says William Gundwane from Simunye.

“There was a time it was dim. We could not see the light. Today we know unity has always been our strength. It was a long journey to come here. It has paid off. We are very happy. Words are not enough. If you have never been exploited at work, you’ll never understand this feeling,” says Nelisiwe Betsa also from Simunye.

It was not clear at the time of going to publish if the Department of Labour will appeal or take the judgement under review.