Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. File picture: Leon Nicholas

Pretoria - Unions should co-operate for the good of workers rather than focus on divisions, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on said on Tuesday.

“I have been encouraging organised labour today. Let them not compete based on the name of the union or affiliation, but they have to work together,” she said.

Oliphant was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a Nedlac labour constituency conference in Pretoria.

Companies in the mining sector also had to engage with unions to resolve issues and avoid protracted strikes.

“Who is benefiting when a strike is prolonged?” she asked.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has issued strike notices for the gold and platinum sectors.

Oliphant agreed that South Africa could not afford a protracted strike in the platinum sector.

“At the same time, this is part of the wage negotiations and therefore we cannot say that workers should not try and pressure the companies to implement what they are demanding.”

Rather the parties needed to meet and identify where the deadlock lay. The department would offer help in facilitating such discussions.

Oliphant said she was meeting unions and employers on Wednesday to seek a way forward.

“But I can't predict the outcome of that meeting,” she said.

On Monday, Amcu announced it had issued gold and platinum employers with strike notices. This was despite the fact that Amcu members benefited from a two-year gold sector Chamber of Mines agreement with the majority unions last year.

Oliphant said that as Amcu was a minority union and had not been a signatory, they were not legally bound by it.

“I don't think it would be proper for the minority to say they are going to go on strike precisely because they don't agree with that one,” she said.

Earlier, Oliphant warned of turbulence in the labour market.

“Recent developments in the labour front signify a turbulent period ahead, but I still believe that it is incumbent upon me to extend best wishes to you all for 2014,” she told delegates at the conference.

Amcu was one of the unions involved in the strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine, which led to the deaths of 44 people in August 2012.

Job growth was “the most important challenge” for 2014, Oliphant said.

“We also hope that this year will buck the trend of 2013 that saw a higher number of new contract jobs or short-duration jobs than permanent jobs.”

This was in line with the National Development Plan's aim to create 2.8 million new jobs by 2015.

She noted criticism of labour legislation and labour dispensation, particularly from some international bodies, as well as local business and the media.

“There are also some who are clearly of the view that our labour legislation is too restrictive and that the South African labour market is over-regulated. We certainly don’t think so.”

The Democratic Alliance recently announced its policies ahead of the national elections, calling for a relaxation of labour regulation, which it said would help create jobs. Oliphant said government aimed for an approach of “regulated flexibility”.

“Regulated flexibility accepts the necessity of regulation, and the need for flexibility. The key issue is finding the right balance. So, let us make progress by focusing on the details and on striking the right balance in our labour legislation.”

One of the difficulties raised in the NDP was the need to link growth in wages with productivity growth.

“This is an area that the department has not addressed directly but it is one that will require attention.”

The department was prioritising the promulgation and implementation of the bills, currently before Parliament. The proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Employment Services Act would enable the department to deal with abuses in the labour market and non-compliance with labour legislation. - Sapa