Date: Sun, 9 Jul 1995 21:01:54 -0200
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Worker Mass Action
Mayibuye, Vol. 6, no. 3, July 1995
Workers took to the streets to press home their demand for a worker-friendly Labour Relations Act. Negotiations between business and labour in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) had by the end of June not yet found a resolution to their differences.
About 70,000 workers marched through Johannesburg's city centre on 7 June as part of a united labour campaign of Cosatu, SACP and ANC alliance partners to protest against employers' refusal to include the right to strike and centralised bargaining in the draft LRA. The marchers were addressed by President Mandela who pledged his and ANC's full hearted support for the worker demands and actions. Almost half a million workers turned out on 19 June in marches across the country to support their demands.
Workers March for RDP Labour Relations
Workers marched last month to demand that the new LRA reflect the rights and priorities set out in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, writes Steyn Speed
If agreement was not reached between business and labour representatives on the new Labour Relations Act by the first week of July, then the government should fulfil its mandate to implement the RDP, Cosatu assistant general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.
In an interview with Mayibuye shortly before the last round of negotiations, Vavi said Cosatu's LRA demands were reflected in the Reconstruction and Development Programme adopted by the tripartite alliance. Closed shops, strengthening of trade unions, centralised bargaining and the outlawing of offensive lock-outs were all contained in the RDP, he said.
Business and labour representatives in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) had by late June failed to reach agreement on key issues of the labour relations bill. The gap between their respective positions had narrowed on paid time-off for shopstewards, agency and closed shops and "slightly" on centralised bargaining. However, there were still "substantial gaps" on particularly the right to strike and disclosure of company information.
"The media has created the impression that centralised bargaining is the only issue in dispute," Vavi said, "but in my view, some other issues are more fundamental." He said a settlement on centralised bargaining didn't mean an overall settlement.
Vavi said there was still a possibility of a settlement being reached in time, but that Cosatu would not agree merely to meet the deadline. "We are not prepared to allow employers to roll back the gains already made. Some of the [business] formulations want to set us back to the '80s," he said. At the time of going to press, labour representatives were considering the compromise proposals made by labour minister Tito Mboweni.
While Cosatu's rolling mass action campaign strengthened labour's position, business remained intransigent on a number of issues. "The [mass action] campaign did help," Vavi said, "employers woke up to find that the National Party was no longer in power, but that there was a democratic government which wouldn't automatically take their side."
Cosatu estimates suggest that close to 500,000 workers took part in the 27 marches held around country on 19 June. Workers brought the Johannesburg city centre to a standstill on 7 June during a march to outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. President Mandela and other alliance leaders joined the 70,000 marchers. He said the right to "demonstrate and strike was used throughout the history of the ANC".
Contrary to business, NP and DP claims, the mass action campaign had strengthened the Nedlac process, Vavi said. He said through Cosatu's campaign, Nedlac had achieved a far greater public profile. It had also involved workers in negotiations. "If employers thought we could work out elite deals in boardrooms, they were wrong," he said.
Workers are demanding...
Summarised below are labour's core demands for the new Labour Relations Act.
Strong, Stable Unions
The labour relations act needs to promote strong, stable trade unions through adopting a 'majoritarian' approach, establishing levels of representation which do not encourage fragmentation and proliferation of small unions. Labour is generally happy with the approach in the bill on these rights.
Cosatu wants 'closed shops' agreed to between representative trade unions and employers to be permitted, but that the institution be democratised through the holding of secret ballots, provision for political and conscientious objection and multi-union closed shops.
It believes, however, that the bill is not strong enough on paid time off for shopstewards, particularly for training.
Labour also maintains the penalties proposed by business for disclosing sensitive company information to competitors is so high as to negate the effectiveness of information being made available to unions. Although mechanisms should exist to ensure that sensitive information remains confidential, employers are Using this as an excuse not to disclose information to workers.
Labour demands that national bargaining councils be established in each sector of the economy, in which employers are compelled by law to participate. The content of these negotiations should be left to the parties to decide.
Right to Strike
Labour has criticised the provision in the bill which allows employers to dismiss striking workers on grounds of fear of "irreparable economic harm". Cosatu maintains that this renders the strike strategy ineffective, since strikes, by their nature, are supposed to place economic pressure on employers.
The bill does not say anything on scab labour, which Cosatu believes should not be permitted during legal strikes, since they it reduces the effectiveness of a strike and has a history of causing violence.
Cosatu also wants that the rights to industrial action on socio-economic matters not be "unduly restricted".
Employers should not be able to use the lock-out mechanism "offensively" as a way of forcing changes in conditions of employment on workers.
Labour wants the proposed workplace forums to be composed of democratically-elected shopstewards, as opposed to general worker representatives. Cosatu argues that workplace forums should not recognise non-union workers, as they have chosen not to be part of a collective. The agenda of the workplace forums should exclude matters covered by collective bargaining.
Duty To Bargain
Employers should be legally bound by the act to bargain with trade union representatives on all matters of mutual interest. The law should not, however, attempt to prescribe the agenda or outcome of these negotiations.