Concourt rejects SAMA appeal over millions in trade union deductions

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The Constitutional Court 's dismissal of a SA Medical Association application for leave to appeal, last week did not mean that the non-profit professional body representing medical doctors and medical students was required to immediately pay millions of rand to the trade union representing doctors in the public sector, reports BusinessLIVE.

SAMA and the SA Medical Association Trade Union (SAMATU) have been in a long-standing dispute over whether SAMA owes SAMATU millions of rand in deductions paid over the past 20 years. The union, which is under administration, has applied for SAMA’s liquidation saying that it owes as much as R370m, but SAMA is opposing this.

SAMA spokesperson Angelique Coetzee said that contrary to a media report, last week’s Constitutional Court ruling did not mean that it was now required to immediately pay millions of rand to SAMATU. A later court case would determine what if anything was owed to SAMATU for deductions for trade union membership, Coetzee said.

BusinessLIVE reports that the court order that SAMA sought leave from the Constitutional Court to appeal against had declared that all SAMA members who paid via Persal were by implication SAMATU members. SAMA’s argument was that this infringed on the constitutional right of association of SAMATU members. However, the Constitutional Court ruled that there were no prospects for success for an appeal. This has established the foundation for an allocation of funds by SAMA to SAMATU should another court find that funds are owed.

Coetzee said SAMA acknowledged that it was wrong not to implement a 2002 Treasury regulation that deductions from Persal for public sector doctors was reserved for certain organisations including trade unions. Before this, voluntary association fees were allowed to be deducted via the Persal system, which was how SAMA obtained the membership fees from public sector doctors.

“We didn’t steal the money. We used it for trade union affairs and we used it for non-trade union affairs which SAMATU members benefited from under SAMA,” she said. SAMA has told the courts that at no time did it intend to establish a trade union that was a separate entity from the association.

According to BusinessLIVE, Coetzee said SAMA had undertaken a forensic investigation to determine whether the services it had delivered to SAMATU members over the 20-year period — for offices, legal advice and so on — fully compensated them for the deductions which had been deposited with SAMA or if it owed SAMATU money.

The report says the acrimonious dispute between SAMA and SAMATU, which has involved several court cases, arose after the trade union was placed under administration in 2019 by the labour court on the basis of several contraventions of the Labour Relations Act.

Its administrator, Gerhard Vosloo, demanded that its finances be separated from those of SAMA and that all deductions and levies paid on behalf of SAMATU members into SAMA’s bank account be refunded to it. Vosloo wants SAMA liquidated on the grounds that it owes the union R370m in membership fees alone.

Vosloo contends that SAMA’s conduct in not separating SAMATU into an independent entity was unlawful in that it did not comply with the Labour Relations Act, which requires trade unions to operate as independent organisations controlled by their members and elected officials.

 

Eyewitness News had earlier reported that SAMA had lost its last bid to overturn a ruling that ordered it to return millions of rands’ worth of assets to trade union SAMATU. The Constitutional Court has dismissed the association’s leave to appeal a Labour Court ruling which ordered it to transfer money to the trade union.

The Constitutional Court said that the appeal by SAMA had no prospect of success after their application was dismissed at the Labour Appeals Court. SAMA was disputing a ruling made in May last year which found that it had unduly taken advantage of the trade union structure to benefit financially from it.

For over 20 years, the medical association operated the trade union as its subsidiary, sometimes exercising full control of its affairs against prescripts of the Labour Relations Act. An administrator appointed by the Labour Registrar after the union was placed under administration has worked out that the association owed about R12m in yearly Bargaining Council levies and subscription fees of over R2.6m monthly.

The payments will be backdated to cover the past 20 years.

 

Full BusinessLIVE report (Restricted access)

 

Full Eyewitness News report (Open access)

 

 

See also MedicalBrief archives:

SAMA faces winding-up application over R370m dispute with its union

 

Union’s battle with SAMA is attempt at ‘daylight robbery’ — Founding chair

 

Doctors’ union under administration following battle with SAMA

 

Doctors union will fight dissolution by SAMA

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