You didn’t need to be a lawyer to predict that a clause in the collective labour agreement (CLA) between Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) would trip up former in no time.
Clause17.1.6 of the CLA states that the agreement “shall remain in force unless and until the expiry of two years from the date of the signing of this Agreement. However, if neither party has, within three months of the expiry of the two years, signified to the other that it wishes to alter or replace this Agreement in part or in whole, it shall be deemed to have been renewed for a further period of two years by tacit mutual consent.” The agreement was signed on April 30, 2013 and with neither party having signified to the other that it wished to alter or replace it by at least October 31, 2015, the agreement was automatically renewed for a further period of two years by tacit mutual consent expiring on April 30, 2017.
Another part of the CLA binds Limkokwing to negotiate with TAWU before embarking on any retrenchment exercise. When the varsity reopened after the Christmas break, management told staff members (not the union) that it planned to retrench staff. When the union reminded the university of the CLA, the latter said the agreement had expired. Limkokwing’s appreciation of the issue was that it was the union’s responsibility to renew the agreement. The varsity’s spokesperson, Mercy Thebe, told Sunday Standard that until it was alerted by the its lawyers, Limkokwing was unaware that the CLA had lapsed and that upon being enlightened, duly relayed this information to both the union leadership and staff members.
“The responsibility for the same, in our view, rests solely with the union who allowed the collective agreement to lapse,” she said last month.
That was not the interpretation of a Department of Labour and Social Security mediator who had to restate what the CLA says and do very basic mathematics to rule in favour of the union. However, Limkokwing is not giving up just yet and in rejecting the mediation outcome, has activated the next stage of the alternative dispute resolution process: arbitration. The latter’s rules are stricter because the verdict is legally binding on both parties and is enforced the same way judgements of the Industrial Court are. Limkokwing has retrenched 52 staff members, a majority of them unionised citizens.