Long strike days are numbered

FILE PICTURE: Members of AMCU march to Implats head office in Illovo, 27 March 2014 to deliver their demands which include an salary increase to R12 500. Picture: Neil McCartney

Prolonged strikes like last year’s five-month platinum mines industrial action could be avoided in future, with authorities now empowered to intervene and break deadlocks in the public interest.

Importantly, new labour legislation allows the intervention without consent of either the employer or the workers.

‘An improvement’

Labour relations experts say the deadlock-breaking changes have the potential to improve South Africa’s collective bargaining and labour relations.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration’s (CCMA) dispute intervention man-

date comes through amendments to the Labour Relations Act and Employment Equity Act – making provisions for improving the monitoring of employee rights, eradicating unfair discrimination and promoting equality in the workplace. Both Acts are now effective.

Previously, the CCMA had to get consent from affected parties in the dispute resolution process.

“The dispute resolution body in the country needs that power. The CCMA has the power to stabilise industrial relations, which at the moment is chaos,” said Jonathan Goldberg, CEO of labour law and human resources consultancy Global Business Solutions. The new powers of the CCMA would also offer an independent view on disputes between affected parties.

“With the CCMA’s powers we may see less matters ending up in a strike,” said Johan Botes, director of employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

The series of strikes seen in the platinum, metal and motor sectors – which hit South Africa’s economy hard – were the reasons behind beefing up the CCMA’s clout. Director of the CCMA Nerine Kahn said the CCMA was criticised last year for not finding solutions to end the platinum strike.

Frans Baleni is the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers says the union is worried the new powers may limit the right for employees to strike.

“For us the objective in a dispute is not to pursue a strike. If the new powers of the CCMA would attempt to find a solution to the disputes then they are welcome.” He’s also wary of the power to intervene: “You cannot impose a mediator, the mediator must be accepted by the parties to open up and attempt to find a solution.”

Botes noted many of the strikes were a result of parties conducting their own mediation talks with “no training in resolving disputes and being familiar with one style of negotiation”.

Forced mediation

If a wildcat strike had to occur, the CCMA does not have the right to stop the strike but it can utilise its new-found influence by talking to affected parties and forcing them into mediation. If this does not work, then the CCMA can use the influence of stakeholders and pressure groups to bring parties to the negotiating table.

New specialist commissioners have been appointed in the CCMA and the body has been awarded R60 million by the National Treasury to fulfil its mandate.

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