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Trade Unions and Employers Associations in South Africa

1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organizations

Trade unions and employers’ organisations enjoy constitutional rights to determine their own administration and activities, to organize and to form and join federations, and they also have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining. Unions and their members can embark on lawful strike action to compel employers to agree to the union’s demands about matters of mutual interest provided that they comply with the LRA’s requirements for protected strikes. Employers have a similar right to resort to a lockout to compel a union and its members to agree to the employer’s demands.

2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

All employees are permitted to form and join a trade union of their choice. Employees – through their trade unions – are also permitted to establish workplace forums in their workplace (although hardly any such forums have been established). It is prohibited to prejudice an employee for joining or participating in a trade union or to prevent him or her from doing so.

3. Types of Representation

Employees are permitted to form and join a registered trade union of their choice. Employees, through their trade unions, are also permitted to establish workplace forums in their workplace where the employer employs more than 100 employees to consult on numerous defined workplace issues. Such workplace forums are rare.

4. Number of Representatives

A majority union in a workplace in which at least 10 of its members are employed may elect union representatives from its members in accordance with a set ratio.

Unions that do not have majority representation may nonetheless elect union representatives from their members if a collective agreement is concluded with the employer concerned that allows for this.

5. Appointment of Representatives

The constitution of the trade union (together with any constraints and obligations that may exist in terms of a collective agreement, if any) will govern the nomination, election, term of office and removal from office of the representatives. It will also regulate the holding of meetings and the issues related thereto.

6. Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

Representatives have the right to assist and represent employees in grievance and disciplinary proceedings, to monitor the employer’s compliance with labour laws and any collective agreements and to report any contraventions of these laws and agreements. They also have the right to perform any other functions as agreed with the employer and to take reasonable time off work for trade union activities. Representatives may not be discriminated against in any way, or dismissed, for their involvement in trade union activities. However, representatives remain employees of the employer, and generally remain subject to its rules on discipline and its other workplace rules.

7. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

Workplace forums: Trade unions can apply to establish workplace forums in a workplace where the employer employs more than 100 employees. If established, the workplace forum acquires rights to be consulted by the employer on various defined workplace issues. However, in practice workplace forums are not a feature of the South African labour landscape.

Health and Safety: Employers who employ 20 or more workers must appoint representatives to monitor health and safety conditions. Representatives must be full-time workers who are familiar with the workplace and must be trained during working hours. Health and safety committees are required to make and keep records of recommendations to employers and inspectors; and discuss, report and keep records of incidents in which someone is killed, injured, or becomes ill.

Employment Equity: Employers must consult with employees or their representatives from across all designated groups in relation to employment equity issues. As such, representative committees are often elected from within the ranks of employees to consult with employers in this regard.

For more information, please contact L&E Global.
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