Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The registrar of labour relations, the authority empowered with the responsibility to regulate trade unions, employers’ organisations and bargaining councils, has no budget and operates on limited resources.

The registrar’s office is part of the collective bargaining unit at the Department of Labour.

The current registrar, who was recently appointed, is Lehlohonolo Molefe.

The labour registrar can place organisations under administration and deregister them if irregularities relating to a number of governance failures are detected. However, there has always been a blurred line between the administrative and political in the office.

Molefe’s predecessor, Johan Crouse, found himself on the wrong side of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant when he tried to act against Cosatu-affiliated Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union for not accounting for its finances and failing to abide by its own constitution. The matter was dragged through the Labour Court after Oliphant suspended Crouse, accusing him of insubordination when he would not drop the case.

No budget, shared resources

"The office of the registrar is combined with collective bargaining currently, it doesn’t have a budget … we share resources, but I indicated we need to have a budget … to effectively deal with these things," Molefe said.

In an interview with Business Day, Molefe said most of the organisations that exist to protect the rights of workers and employers were in a dysfunctional state.

He said while trade unions were riddled with corruption and infighting, employer bodies failed to submit audited financial statements and other requirements and have failed to account to the registrar for years.

Molefe said at the core of the issues crippling these organisations were disputes over money and leadership positions.

However, even with his evident eagerness to restore order, weeding out the rot will be a mammoth task.

"Internal fighting, money that is disappearing — those are some of the things we are picking up. Failure to submit financial statements, failure to have audited financial statements, those are some of the challenges. I have to strictly apply what the law says," he said.

In his two months in office, Molefe has been dealing with a big backlog in cases that date as far back as 2012.

He said he had processed 40% of the caseload.

The South African Local Government Association, an employer body representing municipalities and local government entities, was the first organisation to be slapped with a deregistration warning in May, soon after Molefe took office.