Negotiations on the review of South Africa’s labour legislation reached an advanced stage this week, with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) due to report to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on new agreements by mid-January.
But the Mail & Guardian understands that in spite of growing pressure on social partners to reach consensus on the reshaping of the labour laws, business is concerned that more time will be needed to iron out areas of significant disagreements.
The negotiations centre on six key principles after a suite of amendment Bills, sent to Nedlac and published for public comment last year, were effectively set aside. The Labour Relations Amendment Bill, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill, the Employment Equity Amendment Bill and the Employment Services Bill drew criticism for being poorly drafted and were deemed unworkable.
Nedlac partners have now agreed to negotiate key themes such as atypical employment relationships, dispute resolution, compliance and enforcement, access to employment and equity, and collective bargaining, said Adcorp labour market analyst Loane Sharpe.
But another source with knowledge of the negotiations said base documents on four of the six key themes — employment relationships, dispute resolution, compliance and enforcement, and collective bargaining — were finalised on Tuesday, after which a report will be sent to the minister. Further talks on access to employment and employment equity is to be held next year. Oliphant will have to decide whether there is sufficient agreement to begin the legislative process in Parliament.
The controversial matter of labour broking is being dealt with under the theme of atypical employment. Sharpe said the talks had centred on issues such as the circumstances under which a broker and its client may be jointly and severally cited in the event of an unfair labour practice. Labour wants to ensure that after six months, in the event of an unfair labour practice, workers earning less than R172 000 a year will be able to choose whether to cite the broker, its client or both in any action at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration labour courts. Business wants this to be permissible after only 18 months and applicable to employees earning less than R60 000 a year.
Although there is disagreement on labour broking, there are a host of principles that will have a greater impact on businesses, said the source, including companies’ rights to change terms of employment and the right to retrench staff.
This is particularly relevant in the context of companies’ ability to create jobs in a tough economic climate, labour productivity and skills shortages.