who helped shape South Africa’s Labour Relations Act (LRA) in the Nineties, still firmly believes in the good of sectoral bargaining but is highly critical about how Government has failed to develop the bargaining council system.
Having been called in to help negotiate a new deal for the National Clothing Industry Bargaining Council (NCIBC) he refused to comment on the clothing industry specifically.
Cheadle says the Labour Department should have written a model bargaining council agreement shortly after the promulgation of the LRA and should have incorporated it into a clear policy on minimum and actual wages.
Says Cheadle: “It’s not an inflexible policy. So it doesn’t say you can only have minima and actuals must be dealt with elsewhere. It’s one that says in certain circumstances actuals are appropriate but, as a rule, unless there are compelling reasons against it (bargaining councils should) set minima that expand the compliance net and don’t constitute a barrier to job creation and to allow actuals to be determined at plant level.”
Cheadle says the Labour Minister had also failed to set parameters for bargaining councils by rubber-stamping collective agreements without giving substance to the LRA’s prescription that a council should be “sufficiently representative” of an industry before an agreement could be extended to become law for the entire industry. If the minister exercised his discretion properly, he could ensure that small businesses’ interests are reflected in the agreements, even though they have problems taking part in bargaining council structures.
In the same way, the minister could and should send a collective agreement’s exemption policy back for improvement if it’s too bureaucratic or onerous. Cheadle says a business should be able to obtain exemption from bar- gaining council agreements if it’s starting up, if it’s fallen on hard times or if the workers agree to it.
However, as things stand there’s no clear policy concerning exemption in SA’s bargaining council system.
“The minister, and the President, can guide collective bargaining in a way that meets the constitutional obligation and the economic concerns. I call it Government failure.”
Negotiating parties themselves are also to blame for not developing collective bargaining. “Both unions and employers continued as they did before (1994). You can see some of these agreements go back to 1940. Some of them haven’t even changed the language of these agreements. They’re fat – and they’re impossible to read.”
The office of the Labour Minister didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Firmly believes in the good of sectoral bargaining. Halton Cheadle