The exclusion of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) from the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) is a serious anomaly that needs to be rectified, as the new federation could make vital input on labour policy formulation, an employment law expert says.
Imraan Mohamed, of Hogan Lovells, added there was an arguable case to be made by the union movement, including Saftu, on aspects of the proposed labour law amendments the government is pushing through. He was elaborating on an article he wrote on the new labour amendments that Saftu is challenging.
“For the first time since 1996, when the current labour dispensation came into effect, there is a real likelihood that government will face a constitutional challenge to all, if not a substantial portion, of the amendments to the Labour Relations Amendment (LRA) Bill, limiting the right to strike, and the introduction of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Bill. This challenge will probably come from Saftu,” he wrote.
The Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment (BCEA) Bill, the LRA Bill and the NMW Bill have been referred to the National Council of Provinces after passing in the National Assembly.
Mohamed said the amendments were meant to address violence and prolonged strikes and to promote collective bargaining. But Saftu demanded they be scrapped as they “legitimise a poverty minimum wage and undermine workers’ and trade unions’ independence and democratic rights”.
Mohamed did not see enforcement of ballots prior to strikes happening, adding that it could be challenged as an encroachment on workers’ constitutional rights. But he said: “Balloting is a good idea … to gauge if the majority supports a strike.”
A Constitutional Court challenge could delay the changes as it could take two to three years. “This will leave uncertainty around changes to labour laws, which is undesirable.”
The Congress of SA Trade Unions and the Federation of Unions of SA accepted the minimum wage as a starting point.
Saftu is the second biggest labour federation in SA with about 800 000 members. It was refused Nedlac membership as it has not been in existence for a year.
“Saftu is a big player, it should not be excluded. But this debate should be at Nedlac itself,” Mohamed said.