Labour guides has received a number of enquiries about the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 and the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill 1997. The Act and Bill are available from the Government Printer in Pretoria. Jutas stocks analyses of the legislation.
Please note that the Employment Bill 1997 is only a draft bill published for public comment and is not yet law. It is this Bill that Cosatu is objecting to as being too employer-friendly.
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Prepared by Rael Solomon and
The Labour Consultancy.
THIS week, Rael Solomon examines workplace forums.
The Labour Relations Act (LRA) entrenches the right of every individual employee to job security. It also recognises collective bargaining as being the most effective means of resolving disputes between employers and employees. The most common problems which have to be resolved are claims for higher wages and better conditions of employment. Workers acting individually against an employer are not easily able to demand changes, hence the growth of the trade union movements. Workplace forums are a natural flow up to facilitate collective bargaining.
The LRA has introduced workplace forums, creating a very powerful tool for collective bargaining, particularly in the case of small businesses. These forums are dramatically changing employer-employee relations, ensuring that workers now have a say in most decisions that affect their working conditions.
A workplace forum can only be created in a workplace where more than 100 employees are employed. A union, and only one which represents the majority of workers in that workplace, can apply to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for the establishment of a workplace forum.
The purpose of workplace forums is to prevent or reduce unilateral decision-making by employers, in matters which have a direct bearing on the employees in their workplace. The purpose is also to encourage worker participation in traditionally managerial decision-making structures.
A workplace forum is an elected organisation consisting of employees in a particular workplace. The function is to represent the employees in that workplace and to consult and negotiate with management about various matters concerning employees at that specific workplace.
Workplace forums were not just conceived and established to allow a process of consultation to take place. The LRA specifically compels an employer to meet regularly with the workplace forum, to supply information that the forum may require from time to time, and to come to agreement on matters concerning employees at the workplace. The workplace forum is aimed at encouraging ongoing participation by workers in the affairs of the company.
In terms of the Act, the purpose of a workplace forum is:
- To promote the interests of all employees in the workplace. This means the interests of both union and non-union workers alike.
- To promote efficiency in the workplace, by means of co-operation.
- To be consulted by an employer and to participate in joint decision-making about several issues referred to in the Act.
An employer must consult the forum before any proposal is implemented with regard to the following issues:
- restructuring the workplace, including the introduction of new technology,
- changes in the organisation of work,
- partial or total plant closures,
- mergers and transfer of ownership of the business,
- the dismissal of employees for reasons of operational requirements or retrenchments,
- exceptions from any collective agreement or law,
- establishing a method for job grading,
- establishing a method for establishing criteria for merit increases,
- education and training,
- product development plans,
- if appropriate, export promotion plans,
- disciplinary codes and procedures in the workplace,
- rules relating to the regulation of conduct in the workplace, not related to work performance,
- measures designed to establish an affirmative action programme in the workplace, and
- changes to be implemented by an employer in relation to what are referred to as "social benefit schemes." For example, provident schemes, pension and insurance funds.
Establishing a workplace forum
For the purpose of establishing a workplace forum, a majority union includes a group of small unions acting jointly. The CCMA must arrange a meeting between the applicant union and the employer to try and get the parties (i.e. the union and management) to conclude a collective agreement for the establishment and the running of a workplace forum. If the parties cannot come to agreement, the Commissioner will establish a workplace forum and draw up a constitution for that workplace forum.
The members of a workplace forum must be as representative of the employees of a particular workplace as possible. The Act encourages both employers and employees to establish their own agendas and structures in constituting the workplace forum. If a representative trade union is recognised in terms of a collective agreement by an employer for the purposes of collective bargaining, then that trade union may choose the members of the workplace forum from among its own elected representatives in the workplace.