The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has once again faced criticism for being a “closed shop”.
In a presentation to Parliament’s employment and labour portfolio committee last week, Nedlac officials conceded that exclusivity is one of the most pressing issues faced by the council.
With the country sinking deeper into an unemployment crisis, the body is increasingly struggling to justify its relevance, and existence.
The presentation identified the misalignment of its founding documents “with the current operating environment and demands of the country” as a high strategic risk.
The council — where government, labour, business and community organisations go to sign off on the country’s social and economic policies — is currently reviewing its constitution, which stipulates that representation is determined by its founding members.
Government is joined in Nedlac by trade union federation Cosatu, the Federation of Unions of South Africa, the National Council of Trade Unions, Business Unity South Africa and a grouping of community organisations.
Nedlac has come under fire in recent years over its exclusivity. The council’s most public battle has been with the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), which has criticised it for failing to admit it — a Cosatu rival — as a member.
More recently, Business Unity South Africa president Sipho Pityana reportedly questioned whether Nedlac is “fit for purpose” at its annual summit in September.
The impression of Nedlac as being exclusive — a closed shop in union speak — was the focus of last week’s portfolio committee meeting.
According to Nedlac acting executive director Thembinkosi Mkalipi, amendments to the council’s founding documents will be tabled to the portfolio committee in due course.
“The principle, as I’ve indicated, is that we need to look and say: are these documents creating a closed shop at Nedlac? Is it easy for outsiders to come into Nedlac?” Mkalipi told the committee.
But committee members have suggested that, in order to prevent even more navel gazing on the part of Nedlac, the review process should be done independently.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Xolani Ngwezi said: “I don’t really believe that you yourself can actually do the investigation and come up with anything that somebody who is outside might say is an independent view … I don’t think it is possible that you can manage it yourself.”
On Wednesday, Democratic Alliance MP Michael Bagraim — who is on the portfolio committee — told the Mail & Guardian that he agrees with this sentiment.
Bagraim said he still believes Nedlac is a necessary forum to have, but that its current lack of inclusivity is a “massive problem”.
“… it is supposed to be a debating chamber. But it sounds very much like five wolves and a sheep sitting around the dinner table voting on what they have for lunch.”
Bagraim said the dearth of representation of the unemployed and small business means the jobs crisis is not being properly attended to.
“It’s very nice for the trade unions and very nice for big business, because they can keep all the spoils for themselves. But they’re not creating jobs,” he said.
Statistics South Africa’s most recent quarterly labour survey found that, with 6.7-million people jobless, the country’s unemployment rate has soared to its highest level since 2008.
Nedlac business convenor Kaizer Moyane told the M&G that the council is not averse to seeking outside help on the dilemma: “Nedlac parties are doing that themselves. But there is no harm in getting an outside view to make sure that indeed what the parties in Nedlac are committing to will be fit for purpose.”
He said the process of reviewing Nedlac’s founding documents began before the Jobs Summit in October last year, but it has gained traction over the past few months.
Mkalipi said it is difficult to say when the review will be completed.
“Because you know how social dialogue works … Everything we do is a matter of urgency, but that urgency cannot compromise the result of social dialogue,” he told the M&G on Wednesday.
“Social dialogue is important. For the minimum wage it took more than two years of negotiating, as important as it was … Yes it [the review] is important and, yes, it is urgent. But we should give social dialogue its space.”