Unions take action against South African Telekom’s retrenchment plan

The unions argued in court that proper consultations were not held with them before deciding on retrenchment packages

February 28, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch

South African Communication Union (SACU) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU), presented an application to South Africa’s labor court on Wednesday February 26 seeking an order instructing Telkom SA SOC Ltd to hold further engagement with them over the retrenchment packages. The unions, which together represent around 57% of the employees, allege that the company did not hold meaningful consultations with them before deciding on the packages. The decision from the labor court is expected on March 4.

Telkom, a semi-privatized telecommunications provider operating in about 38 countries on the continent, had planned back in January to slash 3,000 jobs, amounting to 20% of the approximately 15,000 staff working on its South Africa operations.

In order to reach this goal, the company is now seeking to lay off over 1,500 workers through Voluntary Severance Packages (VSP) and Voluntary Early Retirement Package (VERP).

South Africa’s labor laws mandates that consultations must be made before retrenchments, to explore alternatives to minimize the number of job cuts and to agree on the details of retrenchment packages offered to those workers whose jobs cannot be saved through alternative measures.

While meetings have been held between the unions and Telkom since January, negotiations deadlocked on February 12, as the two parties disagreed on the details of what was offered in the VSP and VERP.

South Africa is currently reeling under an extreme economic crisis, and more and more companies are announcing layoffs of thousands each week. In this context, the unions have clarified, according to Reuters, that they are “not opposed to the idea of the VSP or VERP being offered to Telkom’s employees. Rather it wants to consult on the terms of the VSP and VERP’s in order to obtain the most beneficial offer.”

SACU and CWU are seeking a court order instructing Telkom to hold further consultations with unions in a meaningful way and reach an agreement over the package details, before going ahead with retrenchments.