Nkosinathi Nhleko, the director general of the Labour Department, has challenged the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to take a proactive approach in the labour market before the negotiation season begins.
“South Africa has over the past two decades evolved and made major milestones in labour relations. It would be sad if the country regressed from the achievements made.
“There is nothing stopping the CCMA, even before negotiation season begins, to sit down with labour federations and warn them about negative trends emerging in the labour market,” Nhleko said.
Labour losing faith in unions
He warned that the country was skirting on a thin line following the Marikana industrial action, with a new trend of disgruntled workers beginning to lose confidence in their labour representatives, and preferring to represent themselves in wage negotiations.
“The basic tact and art of negotiation is getting eroded within organisations – this is becoming a problem. I don’t know whether we need to go to business schools and ask for refresher courses in human relations,” he said.
Is collective bargaining the best way forward?
Nhleko believed that despite a volatile labour market, the 2013 bargaining season was going to be important in showing that collective bargaining was still the best way of bridging differences between business and labour.
The bargaining season had arrived and South African negotiators were preparing for the 2013 collective bargaining round at a time when collective bargaining was under attack from a number of quarters.
“On the one hand, [there are] innumerable legal challenges to collective bargaining and the extension of collective agreements. The methods used to pursue demands, especially violent action, is bringing collective bargaining into disrepute,” Nhleko said.
Challenges impacting on negotiations
Nhleko said the South African economy and labour market were still reeling from sluggish economic growth, indicating that it has not recovered from the recession of 2009.
Coupled with this was the continuing challenge of unemployment – with about half of all young people jobless – and declining gross domestic product.
“This scenario poses a dilemma on both sides of the table, for business and for labour,” said Nhleko.
Government had convened a high level dialogue in October 2012 to create a common understanding among organised business leaders, labour and community sectors.
“In part, this initiative was also a response to the industrial relations environment that characterised 2012, including the tragic events at Marikana. At a broader level, it is part of the need to speed up the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment,” Nhleko said.
He reiterated that the department was on track to host a Labour Relations Indaba later this year, together with the CCMA and NEDLAC.
Mines’ wage agreements up for renewal
Dr Elize Strydom, senior executive for employment relations at the Chamber of Mines, said the majority of mining industry wage agreements expired at the end of June, with a few exceptions ending later in the year.
Strydom said she expected this year’s negotiation to be the “toughest ever” and expected the CCMA to be busy in 2013.
She said the chamber was keen to pursue the central bargaining route. However, it was also exploring other alternative negotiating forums.
She further cautioned that before formal wage negotiations begin, there should be rules of engagement that would be respected by all parties.
Wildcat strikes won’t be tolerated
“We will respect the law and there should be repercussions if there is no respect. We can no longer go on wild cat strikes on an ad hoc basis. There are laws that govern strikes and we have to do these by letter of the law,” she said.
Strydom added that the challenging factor was retrenchments, and the situation was more pronounced in the tough platinum and gold mining sectors.