Collective bargaining should be confined to the parties and should not be extended to non-parties.

John Kane-Berman, CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, has a column in Business Day and his article Centralised bargaining the problem, not the solution for jobs was first published in Business Day today.   Here are some extracts.

“WHATEVER the Farlam commission may find about the Marikana massacre, the breakdown of industrial relations on the platinum mines is the key factor in the events leading up to the shooting.

Can the system be fixed?   Should it be fixed?   Centralised collective bargaining is breaking down in the clothing industry in KwaZulu-Natal.   It is under challenge in steel and engineering too.   So it is ironic that it is being held out as the solution for mining.

Centralised bargaining takes place in bargaining councils made up of unions and employers.   Wages decided upon are then imposed upon other employers and workers.

However, reform of our labour-relations system is less likely to come about via policy decisions than via de facto change on the ground.   When the black unions now making up the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) emerged in the early 1970s, the established white unions, and employers, tried to exclude them from the workplace.   One stratagem was to set up rival “sweetheart” unions.   These attempts at co-option and exclusion failed.   A few employers broke ranks and started to negotiate agreements with them.   By the end of the 1970s, the government took a pragmatic decision to give them the same rights as the established ones.

Noncompliant employers and workers in factories in KwaZulu-Natal are showing the way by creating those new realities.   The powers of unions and employers in the bargaining council for the clothing industry are crumbling.   Even Ebrahim Patel, Cosatu’s man in government, seems to recognise that there is no going back to the-one-size-fits-all policies the council is trying to enforce by shutting down clothing factories that fail to pay the wages it has decreed.

There is no bargaining council in farming, where national minimum wages are laid down by the minister of agriculture.   But now Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, whose constituency apparently includes De Doorns, says you cannot have one-size-fits-all in agriculture either, on the grounds that wage increases across the board might cause job losses on less profitable farms.

Other new realities have been created by the growth of outsourcing and labour-broking to circumvent restrictive labour legislation.

Cosatu, the government and some in business will seek to fight a rearguard action to preserve our anachronistic and undemocratic labour-relations system.   In the end they will fail.   This will be good, for erosion of that system is essential to combating unemployment.”