Amendments to labour laws up for discussion
Proposed changes will have a significant effect on South Africa’s collective bargaining system, say experts
The introduction of a national minimum wage policy and proposed amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act will have a significant effect on the country’s collective bargaining system, experts say.
As the Department of Labour begins its briefing sessions on the pieces of legislation with trade unions on Thursday, ahead of even broader stakeholder consultations, experts have remarked that the new pieces of legislation, which include stricter regulation of strikes, could either strengthen or weaken collective bargaining.
Employers, trade unions and labour analysts have been critical of the system over the years, claiming it failed to deal with labour market instability, especially in relation to disputed wage agreements and deadly or prolonged strikes as a result of salary disputes.
On the national minimum wage, Professor Imraan Valodia of Wits University, who chaired an advisory panel on the policy recently, said the wage dealt with one of the critical shortcomings of the system.
"We have not had an efficient or adequate system for dealing with the massive growth of low-paid work, and what the collective bargaining system is supposed to do is to get employers and employees … to work together towards a wage that is fair and affordable," he said.
A bill that sets the national minimum wage at R20 an hour for major sectors — which excludes farm workers at R18 and domestic workers at R15 — is expected to become law in May 2018.
Labour analyst Tony Healy was sceptical about the national minimum wage and the Code of Good Practice on Collective Bargaining, Industrial Action and Picketing, which is meant to manage the violence that often accompanies strikes.
According to the Department of Labour, the code, contained in the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, will "strengthen collective bargaining and enhance labour market stability".
However, Healy said, while the amendments were "well intended", they were mostly unnecessary as there was already evidence of improvement in strike-related violence. The majority of labour-related protests in the country were unlikely to descend into violence, he said.
Cosatu, which is one of the labour federations the Department of Labour will be engaging with in Johannesburg about the changes, was also pessimistic about the effect of the proposed amendments.