It can be argued that the concept of a bargaining councils (formerly known as industrial councils) was introduced by General Jan Smuts in 1924 as a political ploy.   Smuts wanted to win back the support of Afrikaners, mainly those who worked on the gold mines, after the disastrous 1922 Rand Revolt where many white strikers were killed or injured.   Now there is speculation about the effectiveness of bargaining councils.

The report Bargaining councils ‘suffer crisis of relevance’ first published in Business Day yesterday by Ntsakisi Maswanganyi refers to the recent report of the South African Institute of Race Relations.


THE number of bargaining councils has declined from 77 in 1996 to 46 last year, suggesting there are now fewer institutions to broker wage deals between workers and employers, according to a report by the South African Institute of Race Relations on Monday.

The institute’s SA Survey 2012 monitors long-term trends in the country’s political, economic and social developments.

In a time when the effectiveness of bargaining councils is being questioned, the report showed there was a decline in the number of annual salary negotiations conducted through them.

Bargaining councils were empowered to negotiate and enforce collective agreements, prevent and resolve labour disputes, as well as decide what might be an issue for the purpose of a strike or lockout, the institute’s report said.

Adcorp labour economist Loane Sharp said on Monday that bargaining councils were experiencing a crisis of relevance.   “Fewer and fewer employees are covered by bargaining councils.

“They are becoming unrepresentative.   We need to disband bargaining councils and let bargaining happen on a company by company basis,” he said.

The consequences of such agreements were often negative for small businesses.

Meanwhile, the report noted a significant decline in the number of registered trade unions in recent years.   There were 504 registered trade unions in 2002 with a total membership of 4.069-million.   This was down to just 200 unions with a membership of 3.058-million in 2010.

The 2008-9 period was characterised by a recession that led to the loss of more than a million jobs.   This could have negatively affected union membership.