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Revealed: Your legal rights when dealing with trade unions

by , 15 May 2013
Union rivalry is on the centre stage at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine as the wild cat strike enters a second day. According to media reports, both rival unions the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) are standing their ground as they butt heads over who has the majority status at the mine. As this happens, 13 of the mines' shafts aren't operational. Read on to discover how to legally deal with trade unions effectively to prevent disruptions like these in your company.

In terms of the Labour Relation Act (LRA), trade unions can press for organisational rights. This means any trade union with enough members at your workplace can demand that you accept the union as an official union in your workplace.

Although the LRA places heavy obligations on you as the employer, it also gives you a number of rights. You need to know what they are to exercise them effectively.

This is vital considering 'trade union officials have been specially trained to negotiate with you to make sure the union gets its way,' the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service explains.

But, you can maintain the upper hand over unions and prevent major disruptions on your business if you do the following.

Keep the upper hand over unions using these three legal rights

  1. In terms of the LRA, you're allowed to discipline and dismiss employees, provided there's a valid reason for this and you follow the correct legal procedure to the letter. These include giving unions an ultimatum that employees will be dismissed if they don't return to work and holding hearings.
  2. You have the right to resist pressure to sign agreements that interfere with organisational efficiency or freedom of association, such as agency shop and closed shop agreements. If you receive a demand from a trade union to enter into such agreements, you should refuse firmly but politely. Closed shop arrangements are where 'no job applicant can join your company without also joining the union or where employees who don't belong to the union are forced to pay agency fees because they may gain benefits indirectly due to negotiations successfully completed by the union,' the Loose Leaf explains.
  3. You also have the right to expel union officials who abuse their rights of access to your workplace. For example, the union official decides to meet with your employees without your permission during working hours.

There you have it! Knowing what your rights are will help ensure you prevent a scenario like the one playing out at Lonmin, and help you effectively deal with trade unions.

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