Magistrates' strike would have 'dire' consequences - Parliament's Portfolio Committee of Justice cautioned magistrates locked in a pay dispute with the State that it would be improper for them to go on strike.
Mr Luwellyn Landers, Chairperson of the Committee, told the Judicial Officers' Association of SA (Joasa) that the threat of industrial action was not helping their situation. Reinforcing his point, Committee member Mr John Jeffery said: 'What message are you sending to the public? Does it mean that if someone does not agree with your judgement, he has the right to protest in your office or Court?'
Ms Debbie Shaefer, who also serves on the Committee said: 'The threat to strike will not do your cause any good' and added that the magistrates ran the risk of not getting an increase at all.
Joasa and the Association for Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa (Armsa) have asked the Committee not to sign off on the recommendations by the Independent Remuneration Commission. The Commission, headed by Judge Willie Seriti, proposed an annual increase of 5.5 percent, which has to be approved by the President and both Houses of Parliament, to take effect on 1 April.
Both associations feel they were not properly consulted before the Commission made a determination on their salaries. They want the Committee to reject the recommended increase, which will mean that the President will have to refer it back to the Commission.
The meeting between the parties comes just days after media reports that Joasa has indicated that if no agreement is reached this week it will launch a strike as of 18 March.
A letter from Joasa members states that failing an agreement, labour action will be extended. 'From the 18th to the 22nd of March 2013, only postponements will be done. If no substantial positive developments occur between the 18th and the 25th of March, the action will be escalated,' it said.
Joasa president Mr Nazeem Joemath said this was a last resort in a long-running pay dispute with the independent remuneration commission.
Armsa said the 'buck' was being passed, as both the presidency and the Commission said they do not make the final determination and can therefore not be taken to Court. Furthermore, the Committee has also said both Houses of Parliament only recommend to the President before a final decision is taken.
Mr Steve Swart, Committee Member, said the impact of a strike on the justice system could be dire. 'Think of the unintended consequences your strike will have,' he urged.
The Committee heard that magistrates were aggrieved that their salaries had shrunk in recent years from 47 percent of the chief justice's pay package, to 30 percent.
Mr Jeffery said if the magistrates' demands were met, they would get an unjustifiable, 'almost 100 percent' increase on their current entry-level annual salary of R671 000.
Mr Landers informed the magistrates that the Committee will deliberate tomorrow on whether to accept or reject the recommendations on the increase.
By Rajaa Azzakani
Parliament of South Africa/13/03/2013