With magistrates threatening a nationwide strike, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DJ&CD) today said discussions with magistrates were currently underway to avert the industrial action.
If the strike went ahead, it would have severe consequences on the lower courts, which were already battling with caseload backlogs.
The Judicial Officers’ Association of South Africa (Joasa) and the Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa (Armsa) were aggrieved by the 5.5% salary increment, set to come into effect from April 1 after its approval by President Jacob Zuma and the Independent Remuneration Commission.
In a statement, Joasa said the strike would run between March 18 and 22 with the possibility of escalating it if their demands for more money were not heeded.
It said that only postponements would be carried out in courts.
DJ%CD spokesperson Mtunzi Mhanga said yesterday that his department was currently in discussion with the aggrieved magistrates to in a bid to reach an “amicable solution” and prevent the strike from happening.
He said they were working “tirelessly” on the matter, but indicated that they were not responsible for setting the salaries of the magistrates as it was done through “Parliamentary structures”.
If a solution was not reached and the strike went ahead, he said that they had contingency plans in place to ensure that the lower courts were kept running.
Luwellyn Lynders, chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, said today that it was his committee’s view that the strike was “unthinkable” and “ill advised”.
This comes after his committee had met with Joasa and Armsa on Tuesday at Parliament where the committee had disapproved of the planned strike.
He warned that the industrial strike would be illegal and would have “dire consequences) for the magistrates.
Asked if it was correct that the magistrates were unhappy with the 5.5% salary increase, he said Joasa and Armsa had said their members were being “ignored” and were unhappy about the establishment of the establishment of the lower courts remuneration committee by the chief justice (Mogoeng Mogoeng).
He said they expressed the view that the committee was not properly constituted and did not represent their interests.
In a statement Joasa President Nazeem Joemath said he had compared the salary of a senior public prosecutors with that of a senior magistrate and discovered that the senior prosecutor “earns a couple of cents” under R100 000 a month, which was almost R37 000 more than a senior magistrate earned per month.
“The high court judiciary has always looked down on us and has never shown an interest in our remuneration as they were only recipients of the 2008 IRC (Independent Remuneration Commission) recommendations which were implemented”.
Reports indicate that this is not the first time magistrates have threatened to go on strike as they had threatened a national judicial shutdown in 2011.
It the time, it is said the chief justice earned R213 0769 a year while lower court magistrates earned 30% of that amount (R639 256) a year. – Francis Hweshe