WORKING CONDITIONS OF UNION AND NON-UNION MEMBERS
Written contracts Paid leave Permanent contracts Bargaining council coverage No wage bargaining of any form
tripled between 1994 and 2014, showing that unions
Over and above this premium, many union members are also covered by industrial bargaining council agreements. The Labour Relations Act stipulates that a collection of firms and unions may jointly negotiate industry-specific terms of engagement on a more macro level. In this scenario bargaining power increases as many stakeholders engage in these meetings.
Should such agreements cover a substantial number of workers, the minister of labour enjoys the prerogative to extend the stipulations to an entire industry or region, regardless of whether firms or workers’ representatives participated in the negotiations.
As the table shows, public-sector employees enjoy greater benefits from this bargaining mechanism: about 35% of public-sector union workers report that they additionally benefit from bargaining council negotiations, compared with only 8.2% of private-sector union members.
Not only is coverage greater in the public sector, but so are the wage benefits: public-sector union members who are also covered by bargaining councils enjoy a 22% wage premium compared with only 16% in the private sector.
The benefits of unionisation and collective bargaining are therefore far more pronounced in the public sector. This underlines the government’s commitment to implementing its policies among its own employees.
Unionised public-sector workers are also far more likely to have secure working conditions than private-sector and non-unionised workers. As shown in the table, all union members in the public sector have a written employment contract, while figures are slightly lower in the private sector.
Despite improvements in contract coverage for nonunionised workers over time, members still have greater job security (as seen in the graph below). The table also shows Non-union 83.3% 62% 57.6% 2.8% 82.3% that more than 90% of unionised workers (in both sectors) report that they receive paid leave benefits and that the nature of their contracts is permanent, rather than insecure and temporary. Unions are therefore highly effective at translating the prescriptions of the law into real benefits for their members.
Non-unionised workers do not enjoy these benefits to the same extent. But in the public sector the disadvantage of not being a union member is greater. So the incentive to participate is clear. Recent analysis goes as far as to suggest that unionised public-sector employees now constitute a new “labour elite”.
Union 98.4% 92.5% 91% 8.2% 8.3% Non-union 99.7% 54.3% 38.9% 11.4% 72.7%
influence in the workplace.
Amendments to the Labour Relations Act in 2015 stipulate that low-paid temporary workers become permanently employed after three months of work. This provision has been put in place to avoid firms bypassing labour laws through high staff turnover. While the effects are yet to be seen in official statistics, this has broad implications for labour brokers and outsourced workers. If enforcement is poorer in some sectors than others, this legislation may not have the full intended effects without additional monitoring and union involvement. But, if current trends continue to support higher levels of written (and particularly permanent) contracts, the legislation could enhance job security.
Union federations are also leaders in the campaign for a national minimum wage. Currently, the selective sectoral minimum wages do not generally put pressure on unemployment. Increases in wages of better-paid workers – typically covered by collective bargaining agreements – do, however, tend to place a burden on job creation. The balance between unions’ objective to maintain living wages and fairness for workers and job loss remains critical for future debate.
Overall, unions in co-operation with government alliances – and also in collective negotiation with business – have played an important role in improving both pay levels and job security. While negative macroeconomic effects remain debated, unions have gone beyond their political mandate to improve conditions of the working poor in SA.