A crucial moment in South Africa’s transition to democracy, was the signing of the Laboria Minute in 1990 between unions, employers and government where it was agreed that, no laws on labour market issues would be passed without the agreement of all three social partners.
This, of course, led to the establishment of the National Economic Forum (NEF) in 1992.
Some of you may recall that it was this newly established National Economic Forum, which merged with the National Manpower Commission, to create South Africa’s premier social dialogue institution, the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
Nedlac is distinctive as a dialogue institution in that it includes not just labour market issues, but also trade and industrial policy, monetary and fiscal policy as well as developmental issues.
I truly believe that successful social dialogue structures and processes carry the real potential to resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social and industrial peace and stability and boost economic progress.
In order to ensure that social dialogue remains an integral component of the South African policy-making and national decision-making system, social partners rely on a system of consultation and dialogue to build on a shared national vision.
Dialogue, in our view, is accepted as a means of consolidating a young, democratic, but deeply divided society. It’s also a medium through which to enhance participation in policy formulation and decision-making.
South Africa prides itself as a democratic developing country that adheres to the principles of good governance, and, acknowledges the importance of civil society participation in state affairs.
Many commentators at home and abroad agree that Nedlac remains one of the key vehicles for social dialogue in South Africa. We know that among the 187 ILO-member states, there are many that wish they could have a social dialogue institution like we have in this country.
At times we take for granted the world class institutional set-up that we have in this country, and often do not show appreciation that we have institutions that are among the best in the world.
As we gather to take stock of progress so that we can tool and retool for the road ahead, let us remember that while we have made major strides in our history since the dawn of democracy, there is still some way to go.
Finally, let me, albeit briefly, raise one matter that is of cardinal importance.
I have been advised that the SA Human Rights Commission conducted an investigation on the constitutionality of Affirmative Action policy cum Employment Equity. To this end I am advised that a report was released.
Its conclusion was that both the Affirmative Action Policy and the Employment Equity Act were unconstitutional and not in sync with international conventions.
The report makes various recommendations on what needs to be done, including a recommendation to amend the Employment Equity Act.
The commission gives the government six months to report back on steps taken to give effect to its recommendations.
It follows, therefore, that the Nedlac social partners need to study this report and advise on its stance vis-à-vis the recommendations of the commission. It might even be useful to seek an audience with the commission in order to understand the basis for its report, findings and the recommendations.
This is important given that all our labour laws have to pass constitutional scrutiny before they can be signed into law. The conclusions to the contrary by the commission demands special attention from all of us in general and the Nedlac social partners in particular.
Oliphant is the Minister of Labour. This was her opening speech at the 2018 Nedlac annual summit last week.