The South African Government has developed a myriad of rules and regulations to tr y and “manage” the economy and help push the agenda of transformation and worker’s rights. However, these self-same rules and regulations are now being turned on those who put them in place and it is going to put Government and business on an unpleasant collision course.
This week the Free Market Foundation (FMF) f iled a constitutional challenge to South Africa’s Labour Relations Act of 1995 in the Gauteng North High Court. The respondents were listed as the Minister of Labour; the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, and Bargaining Councils as defined in the Labour Relations Act.
FMF chairperson, Herman Mashaba, told the media: “This labour law challenge... is about giving people the freedom to decide for themselves what kind jobs they want to do, what amount of pay they are prepared to work for, and what conditions they are prepared to work under. It is about their freedom to make their own decisions about their own lives. It is the sole right of unemployed people to decide what jobs they consider to be better than no job at all... to decide what job is a ‘ decent’ job. No one has the right to take away that decision-making power from desperate people. It is evil to do so.”
Will the FMF succeed with its challenge? It’s unlikely, simply because it’s going to be f ighting on too many fronts and will ultimately have to narrow down exactly what it’s arguing for. Government also continues to be very much a “workers” party and depends on the idea of protected labour – although there are signs that support for Government’s policies is weakening.
Government can also very quickly point out that the private sector has yet to prove it can create jobs and that the majority of jobs created in the last few years have in fact come from Government-driven policies.
At the moment, the FMF challenge has more to do with the principle that business in SA is now prepared to go head to head with Government and use the Constitution and l abour l aws to challenge poor policy decisions.
Similarly, the recent announcement from Comair that it would go the legal route to take on the “bailouts” of SAA demostrates that business is now prepared to take off the gloves and get stuck in when the playing fields aren’t level.
Will Comair win? Almost definitely not, but what it may well do is remind ministers who attempt to rush through legislation that there may well be constitutional and legal issues when they try to “force” business into certain methods of operating.
It is an important time for South African business. The National Development Plan (NDP) is backed by a number of participants, both in the public and private sector, and we need to build on this momentum. Tough discussions are going to be held and it’s essential for all stakeholders to come to the table with solutions rather than simply looking to wear each other down in protracted f ighting.
Business has come out f ighting and it is good to see that Government is no longer being treated with kid gloves. However, co-ordination and goals are going to be the key to delivery here.