“It is an attack on our right to speak out and struggle for a better world.” – CSAAWU statement
CSAAWU, a farming union in rural parts of the Western Cape, fought off a ‘defamation’ gag order by lawyers representing Robertson’s Abattoir, which tried to stop CSAAWU workers from speaking out against exploitation and illegal working conditions.
In late 2010, after Robertson’s Abattoir workers began to organise through CSAAWU to push back against illegal and dehumanising working conditions, they found themselves locked out of the abattoir – 48 were later dismissed. CSAAWU went public with its concerns that workers had been forced to work under intolerable conditions, including up to 39 hours of over-time a week, for a basic wage of barely R315 a week. CSAAWU also highlighted that workers who had started to unionise were being intimidated and faced dismissal.
As CSAAWU’s public campaign began to gain momentum, Robertson’s Abattoir brought a defamation case against the union in order to silence their criticism of working conditions; an interim interdict was granted in May 2011, effectively preventing CSAAWU and the workers of Robertson’s Abattoir from speaking out against their employer. It also effectively banned the union from mobilising public support or exercising its basic rights. At the time CSAAWU wrote, “This is not only an attack on the union but also an attack on our right to freedom of expression and freedom of association. It is an attack on our right to speak out and struggle for a better world.”
Though the interdict has been lifted and the court process has stalled, the workers who were dismissed have never been reinstated. However, CSAAWU has launched a “Speak-Out” Campaign to defend other vulnerable workers from attacks on their right to organise and speak out.
CSAAWU workers are featured in R2K’s 2014 Whistleblower Calendar. Find out more.