South Africa is currently facing one of its most difficult and challenging economic periods, characterised by very low economic growth combined with extremely high poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
As the South African labour market enters its annual season of negotiations and collective bargaining in 2021, collaboration, creative thinking, complex problem solving, and co-determination are going to be paramount as the parties seek to ensure stable and sustainable outcomes.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996 and the Labour Relations Act (the LRA) 66 of 1995 entrench the right to collective bargaining. Section 1 of the LRA specifically states as a purpose the promotion of orderly collective bargaining, employee participation, and the effective resolution of disputes.
At the 2011 CCMA 15-year ‘think tank’, South Africa’s labour relations and negotiations were described by the Social Partners present as being ‘adversarial’ and ‘positional’.
Following a NEDLAC summit in 2014 on the state of collective bargaining, the Ekurhuleni Declaration was signed and the Code of Good Practice: Collective Bargaining, Industrial Action and Picketing (the Code) was subsequently gazetted in December 2018. The Code’s purpose seeks to strengthen collective bargaining through promoting trust, mutual understanding, constructive engagement and the maximum involvement of workers and worker representatives in negotiations. In addition to training and capacity building, the Code also provides for the appointment through mutual agreement by the parties of independent facilitators.
Training courses on collective bargaining and the Code often refer to ‘three P’s’; the people, the process, and the problem. In a Harvard Negotiation Project address a few years back, Roelf Meyer, one of the chief negotiators during the CODESA negotiations in the early 1990’s, was asked what he had found to be key learnings that had resulted in the effective outcome of South Africa’s Constitutional negotiations. Meyer unequivocally stated the first two ‘p’s’, labeling them as the trust between the negotiators and the process itself.
While there are traditions of positional and adversarial approaches to collective bargaining, there are also ‘best practice’ examples of innovative social contracts and compacts being entered into by some parties.
Watch the recording of the webinar held 20 May 2021 on the current state of collective bargaining and the opportunities for more effective negotiations HERE.