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New labour Bill to curb illegal strikes

Meggan Saville

The labour department says high levels of illegal strikes in South Africa will be addressed through amendments to labour law which includes ballots.

High levels of illegal strikes in South Africa will be addressed through amendments to labour law, the labour department said on Wednesday.

Chief director of collective bargaining, Thembinkosi Mkalipi, said that unions would need to conduct ballots to ensure that the majority of members agreed on the need to strike.

It was understood that unlawful acts, such as damage to property and violence, in support of industrial action often occurred where only a minority supported the cause for the strike.

Unions would also have to abide by picketing rules or lose protection for their strike.

If the employer contravened the picketing agreement, it would lose the right to employ temporary or “scab” labour while the strike lasted.

To address illegal strikes in essential services, the Bill provided for an essential services committee to determine which services qualified as essential.

The committee would be responsible for the negotiation of minimum service level agreements.

“Our colleagues in labour want everyone to go on strike but business want nobody to go on strike,” Mkalipi said.

Striking a balance
The essential services committee would aim to strike a balance between the needs of labour and employers.

Greater powers would be afforded to the minister of labour when the Bill was passed into law.

The minister would determine the threshold level of representation of a union to improve workers’ access to union protection within sectors where this need was not fully realised.

The minister would also be empowered to set wage increases, as opposed to minimum wages, for vulnerable workers within certain sectors.

The amended legislation would also increase the efficiency of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) by expanding its functions to ensure it better served workers, Mkalipi said.

For example, illiterate people would have their dispute forms filled out for them. Many poor workers did not have access to facilities such as fax machines, which were needed in the resolution of issues.

Mkalipi said the CCMA would be required to provide these services under the proposed legislation.

Employers frequently applied to the courts for reviews of CCMA rulings. This should be the exception, rather than the rule, he said.

‘Putting your money where your mouth is’
In future, businesses would be required to give money to the courts as security, and the labour court should resolve each matter within six months.

“If you’ve got a strong case, you must be prepared to put your money where your mouth is,” Mkalipi said.

“Remember, the poor worker isn’t getting paid.”

Under the amendment Bills, the CCMA would no longer entertain claims of unfair dismissal from high income earners “unless you can come up with issues that are automatically unfair, like racism”, he said.

The minister would decide what threshold would determine “high income” but it was expected to be around R1-million per year.

For high income earners, the CCMA would not consider claims of unfair dismissal if the worker was given a fair notice period.

The amendments would also protect workers by tightening up the law around labour broking, he said.

Temporary work would be defined as work that lasted no more than six months, said Mkalipi.

“After six months, I cannot be treated differently from other employees, no matter if I am employed by the broker or the client,” he said.

“Let’s give workers what is due to them.”

‘Same treatment and same pay’
This could be summarised as “same treatment and same pay for the same work”.

Exceptions included workers who earned more than R172 000 per year, certain types of seasonal work and contracts to replace staff on sick leave.

Despite pressure from labour unions, Mkalipi said that the department saw greater value in regulating labour brokers through law, rather than abolishing them.

Dumisani Dakile of the Congress of South African Trade Unions said labour was “highly disappointed” that broking was not outlawed in the Bills.

“Slavery was far better than labour brokering,” he said in question time.

The purpose of the briefing was to inform the public about the amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Briefings would be held across the country until the end of April.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant submitted the Bills to the Cabinet Committee on March 14 and their submission to Parliament was approved the following week.

Mkalipi said Parliament could put the bills up for further public hearings but the department had conducted these in 2010 and would not make further changes.—Sapa

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