Johannesburg - A textile union plans to resist the Free Market Foundation's challenge of a law which allows the extension of collective bargaining agreements to people not part of the original bargaining council, it said on Wednesday.
“This brutal attack against our country's democratically legislated industrial relations system, in particular its collective bargaining architecture, cannot be left unchallenged,” SA Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (Sactwu) general secretary Andre Kriel said.
Business Day reported the foundation had launched a constitutional challenge against sections of the Labour Relations Act which allowed collective agreements made in bargaining councils to be extended to non-member employers and employees.
According to the challenge, brought in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, the foundation believed the practice pushed up wages and put smaller employers out of business.
It believed it was unconstitutional for agreements reached among private parties to be extended to others not in any way involved in making them.
Sactwu said that, at its national bargaining conference of February 28 to March 3, 200 worker representatives from all parts of the country, “resolved that such an attack on worker rights should be vehemently resisted”.
The foundation intended to create conditions to exploit vulnerable workers, Sactwu believed. It would table a proposal to the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) next week to resist the foundation's move.
The proposal would be finalised at Cosatu's collective bargaining, organising and campaigns conference caucus on March 11.
There could be a national protected strike over the issue, Kriel said.
“We call on all Sactwu members to be on high and militant alert, in defence and advancement of their collective bargaining rights,” he said.
However, the National Employers' Association of SA (Neasa) welcomed the foundation's plans.
“We agree with the notion that the extension of bargaining council agreements to non-party members does in fact limit job creation,” Neasa CEO Gerhard Papenfus said in a statement.
Neasa was also concerned about the “non-competitive nature” of the bargaining council system, as it allowed a few large players and trade unions in industries to set wages, which smaller players could not match.
Neasa was mindful the foundation's challenge would be difficult.
“It will, however, succeed in putting the necessary pressure on the current system and make it realise that people need the freedom to decide for themselves what kind of jobs they want to do, what amount of pay they are prepared to work for, and what conditions they are prepared to work under,” said Papenfus.
According to Business Day's report, in the act, the minister of labour is compelled to extend an agreement to non-parties if the employer parties constitute a majority of employers, and the trade unions in the council represent most employees in the industry.
The minister has the discretion to extend an agreement if he or she believes collective bargaining will be damaged if this is not done.
The foundation is challenging the constitutionality of the former.
Because the minister had no discretion in this instance, the state delegated its powers of statutory regulation to a private body, which it could not do without violating the Constitution.
The minister can also coerce a majority into complying with the terms of employment set by a minority. - Sapa