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Warning: Government planning to reform labour laws yet again!

by , 25 March 2014
If you're still trying to get your head around the recent labour law amendments relating to Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) and the Employment Equity Act, we have news for you: Government wants to amend labour laws once more. This time, the amendments could be around strike action. Continue reading to find out more about this as there may be a silver lining for your business.

Every year, South Africa loses billions to strike action

Strike action is rife in South Africa. Last year, we reported that a 2012 Industrial Action Report tabled by the Department of Labour (DoL) showed a significant increase in the number of strikes in 2012 compared to the previous four years.

A total of 99 strikes were recorded in 2012 – almost half of them unprotected or illegal strikes and many of them characterised by violence.

2013 was even worse.

And 2014 got off to a similar start. In fact, as we speak, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is on strike. The strike over wages has been going on for over two months.

The SABC reports that economists say the strike by Amcu crippling has cost the country's economy more than R3 billion to date.

The good news is government plans to put an end to prolonged strike action and the violence by introducing new laws.

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What you need to know about governments' plans to reform labour laws around strike action

Carol Paton writes in BDlive that the government has opened the door to the possibility of further labour law amendments, especially those that could limit long and violent strikes, and has invited social partners to 'a structured discussion' on the matter.

According to Paton, the Department of Labour acting deputy director-general Thembi-Nkosi Mkalipi said in an interview last week the government had submitted a proposal to business and labour representatives in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to hold a 'labour relations indaba to address the challenges facing labour relations.'

Paton says the indaba, to be held in the second half of the year, is framed in terms of a response to Marikana. However, the partners would be free to make suggestions for the agenda.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant is quoted as saying that 'the indaba would 'conduct a holistic situational analysis of the labour market in South Africa with a view to identify the problem areas and to agree on a set of interventions to remedy such ills.'

Oliphant goes on to say that 'the department had commenced exploring possible regulatory instruments to curb protracted industrial action and would advise this house (parliament) at an appropriate point.'

In the BDlive report, Paton says another suggestion, being spoken of informally in the government, is that strikes should be subject to compulsory arbitration when they drag on too long.

That's not governments' only plan to reform labour laws around strike action

Paton adds that the other suggestion has been to revisit the 'majoritarian principle,' which allows unions with a membership of 50% of the workforce to set thresholds for competing unions, in effect shutting them out.

This is considered vital by labour law experts in revisiting the labour relations framework. The effect of the majoritarian principle has been to limit the number of voices in industrial relations processes that employers can legitimately speak to, writes Paton.

There's no denying that strike action in South Africa has gotten out of control. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of the indaba that government is talking about. We'll keep you updated on the latest developments regarding this issue.

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