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Managing labour? Manage union rights in the workplace

By Christo Bester

When labour unions demand union rights in the workplace, it may embarrass employers who are unsure of their own rights, and also of those of the union(s), and how these are to be regulated.

Which rights may unions demand?

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) acknowledge the rights of unions, and also regulate the following rights:

• Access to the workplace (to address farm labourers and guard their interests). Any visit has to be arranged beforehand with the employer and the LRA stipulates that visits should take place at a reasonable time;

• Deduction and transfer of union registration fees;

• Representation in the workplace (the union may elect employees to act as representatives in the workplace);

• Leave for union activities (reasonable paid off-time for representatives to attend union activities. The act does not prescribe how much paid or unpaid days are to be granted – consequently it has to be agreed on by the involved parties); and

• Disclosure of information (disclosing applicable information to enable the union to carry out its obligations).

What is the difference between a union with adequate and one with majority representation?

A distinction is made between unions with adequate and with majority representation in the workplace. In practice adequate representation, as well as in jurisprudence, is accepted as 30% and majority representation as 50% + 1.

This distinction has an influence on the rights of the union. A union with adequate representation in the workplace is only entitled to the first two rights, as explained above, while a union with majority representation is entitled all five of the rights.

Amendments to the Act, which came into force on 1 January 2015, determines that a commissioner of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has the authority to grant more rights to a union with adequate representation.

What does the recognition agreement between employer and employee entail?

To be able to demand the above mentioned rights, the Act stipulates that the union should follow a procedure which requires of the union to inform the employer in writing of the rights that the union would like to exercise in the workplace. The union also has to attach a copy of its registration certificate, as well as membership forms as proof of the number of employees represented by the union, to the notice. The Act stipulates that the employer should, within 30 days hereafter, enter into consultation with the union to conclude an agreement of recognition which will stipulate the terms and conditions which have been agreed on, such as:

•  confirmation of the rights of the union;

•  entry to the farm;

•  deductions;

•  procedures affecting the union;

•  shop stewards;

•  meetings between the union and its members, as well as the employer;

•  negotiations;

•  dispute resolution; and

•  other general terms and conditions.

It is important that the employer act pro-actively to strengthen the employer/employee relationship. Distinct rules and guidelines in the workplace limit misunderstandings and conflict, thus promoting productivity as well as a positive working environment. We recommend the following actions:

• Ensure that all employees have service contracts and that the employees understand its contents;

• Firm procedures in the workplace enhance good communication between employer and employee, for example a disciplinary code, grievance procedure, leave procedures, etc.;

• Compliance with applicable legislation – Sectoral Determination 13 is applicable on the Agricultural Sector;

• Regular consultation with employees to discuss any problems and/or changes in the workplace.

The employer has to manage many risks on a daily basis. The best manner in which the employer can manage labour as a risk, is to proceed pro-actively and ensure that the service contracts, disciplinary code, procedures and policies are in place; and that all relevant documentation complies with the applicable legislation.

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