Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Parties in talks at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) have effectively conceded on removing a second strike ballot from provisions to promote labour stability after unions flat out disagreed with the proposal.

The second ballot was proposed as a way to gauge whether workers want to return to work during lengthy strikes.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said on Tuesday his federation’s main issue with the proposal for a second ballot effectively meant "breaking the strike by law".

National Council of Trade Unions president Joseph Maqhekeni said a second ballot interfered with the right to strike as enshrined in the Constitution.

A source close to the talks said a law firm was set to refine a code of good practice for collective bargaining, an accord on labour peace and a declaration on good faith bargaining to improve labour stability.

Talks are set to continue in Nedlac over the next two weeks on finalising a package of proposals to bring about labour stability, a key concern for ratings agencies.

On Sunday Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa tabled a proposal on a national minimum wage of R20 per hour or R3,500 per month, which now has to be discussed by parties concerned.

Measures put on the table to end long and violent strikes included strike ballots, voluntary arbitration and a ban on the carrying of traditional weapons during strikes.

It is understood that business and the government have effectively conceded that a second strike ballot is unlikely to succeed. The proposal was for voluntary arbitration and once an award was made, for unions to conduct a secret ballot to determine whether the award would be accepted by members.

A strike ballot on whether or not to go on strike is already enshrined in law and forms part of union constitutions.

Sources close to the talks said the government and business had effectively conceded on the second ballot and that a law firm was looking at a "reformulation" of the proposal. It is understood that the proposal is likely to be watered down.

Further labour law amendments, a code on collective bargaining, an accord on labour peace and a declaration on good faith bargaining are on the table for discussion between parties.

Parties in government and business did not want to comment openly on the talks as they were at a "sensitive stage".

Among the labour law amendments is a proposal for the establishment of an "industrial action advisory arbitration panel" to facilitate resolution between employers and employees after a dispute has been declared and a strike or lockout has begun.

This is according to a document outlining the proposed amendments to the labour laws under discussion in Nedlac.

A dispute can be referred to the panel by the minister of labour if one of the parties in the dispute applies for arbitration,
if ordered to do so by the
Labour Court or if the parties agree to it.

This provision is aimed at addressing lengthy strikes. An award should be made in 14 days but it may be extended. The Labour Court, according to the amendments, may grant an order to halt a strike or lockout pending an award by the panel.

This order could be granted if the "strike is causing or exacerbating an acute local or national crisis affecting the conditions for the normal social and economic functioning of the community or society".

An award is not binding, but parties must provide reasons for rejecting it. If an award is rejected, a secret ballot must be conducted. If the majority of union or employee organisation members accept it, it will become binding.

This secret ballot has been rejected by labour and is set to be removed from the provisions. According to insiders, it may be replaced by a workers’ general meeting.

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