New labour relations bill unvieled

By Sylise Petersen of the US SA Sister Community Project, in South Africa Political Update,
14 February, 1995

The Update is a 4-6 page summary of news in South Africa, written by Sister Community Project's correspondent Sylise Petersen. Sources include most of South Africa's national newspapers and informal interviews. The update is a free service, begun in 1991 to SCP's members and now distributed to over 100 organisations in the US and the UK by fax or email. We depend on donations to finance the update. Please send contributions or requests to be added to our list to:

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Last week, Labour Minister, Tito Mboweni, unveiled the new Labour Relations draft Bill. The Minister appointed a ministerial task team in July 1994 to produce the draft document, which will eventually replace the current Labour Relations Act, once it is tabled in Parliament in May. Unionists and the business sector reacted positively to the bill, but admit that extensive consultation and discussion has to be done, before the bill would be accepted in its entirety.

The country has been plagued by strikes since the new government took office in May last year. The Bill, once passed, could signal the end of confrontational, undisciplined and sometimes violent strikes of the past. For the first time, compulsory arbitration is introduced, which will effectively deal with disputes timeously, thus preventing long drawn out strikes that cause a loss of income, for both sides of the bargaining table.

The new Bill outlaws strikes by workers who render essential services. If the interruption of services endangers the life, personal safety, or health of a part or the whole population, it is regarded as an essential service. An Essential Services Committee will hold public hearings to determine which services will be regarded as essential. However, if a dispute arises where an essential service is rendered, immediate compulsory arbitration is provided.

The government proposes to set up an Arbitration, Mediation and Conciliation Committee to oversee arbitration. In disputes, a committee comprising of worker, employer and mediation representatives will meet to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. The Bill also proposes that the Arbitration, Mediation and Conciliation Committee replace the current Industrial court. This will cut through the sometimes onerous red tape normally associated with, for example, unfair dismissal hearings.

The new Bill proposes that Closed Shops to be phased out gradually. Closed Shops are the practice where non union members are excluded from benefits that union workers undertook industrial action for. Now Agency shops are recommended: By this practice, non union members can benefit from gains union members bargained for, by paying a levy to the union. The new Bill prohibits all forms of victimization.

The rights of the worker is enshrined in the Bill: workers no longer have to fear victimization or harassment if they participate in a legal strike. They have the right to hold meetings, have access to stop order facilities (for union subscriptions) and have time off for union activities. The workplace should provide adequate facilities for union activities. Workers should give their employers 48 hours notice, if they intend going on a strike. Employers have the same length of time to notify workers of a lock-out.

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