Feature Article: Property rights and the right to work – SA’s burning issues

Today I write to tell my fellow South Africans how proud I am to be associated, as Chairman, with the Free Market Foundation (FMF), a great organisation that is sometimes misunderstood. The just cause of the FMF since inception has been the promotion of economic freedom, which is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labour and property. One of its Founding Principles is that, “All people have a right to life and the right to conduct it as they see fit, provided they do not impinge upon the similar rights of others. Amongst the most fundamental rights of all persons is the right to own and control property and the produce of their own efforts and to dispose of it as they see fit.”

The FMF is constantly alert to policies, laws and regulations that need fixing in order to make people’s lives better. The Foundation is completely non-partisan and advocates, to all political parties, policies that lead to peace, lawfulness and prosperity. Founded to promote the abandonment of apartheid, which consisted of a set of policies and laws that were in conflict with the fundamental principles of the rule of law, individual liberty, economic freedom, human rights and democracy, the FMF played a significant persuasive role in explaining how apartheid could be ended peacefully merely by replacing bad laws with a sound constitution and better laws and policies. It took a great deal of negotiation for the parties to reach that conclusion but fortunately for all of us, they did.

On Tuesday, 22 October 2013, at a gathering in the Tumahole suburb of Parys, Free State Province, presided over by the Premier of the Free State and Mayor and Councillors of the Ngwathe Municipality, a great event occurred of which the FMF can be justly proud. The first fully tradable title deeds were handed over to black home owners in the Ngwathe municipal area. In addressing the new property owners the Mayor said, “Today we give back to you what rightfully belongs to you!” Launched in 2010, the Ngwathe Land Reform Project serves to convert land currently held under a complex variety of restrictive tenures and titles to unambiguous, freely tradable ownership. Full title will ensure economic emancipation and empowerment for black home owners.

Given the critical role secure property rights play in protecting economic and individual freedoms, it is not surprising to learn that the FMF played an important role during the constitutional debates in ensuring the inclusion of the property rights clause in the final Constitution.

In line with its long-standing support for property rights for the people, the FMF partnered with the Ngwathe Municipality and private sponsors in this exciting land reform project that will totally end the apartheid legacy of having black households living in state-owned houses and not having the benefit of home ownership. Ownership of their houses, with no strings attached, will give the people of Ngwathe a taste of real secure property rights, protected by the constitution, and the true freedom that has been denied to them for so long.

I congratulate the Councillors of this Free State municipality for their foresight and courage in the economic emancipation of their community and encourage all other local authorities to follow their example. Ngwathe is working with private sector partners to document all aspects, challenges and solutions and will recommend policy options that will make title conversion fast and affordable for other municipalities. Naturally, the FMF will be happy to assist wherever possible.

As mentioned, the other fundamental right consistently promoted by the FMF is for all persons to own and control the produce of their own efforts and to dispose of it as they see fit. This means the right to sell their labour to whoever they want to, on conditions and at a price that is acceptable to them. With almost eight million unemployed people in South Africa it is obvious that this contractual right of the people is not being respected. If it was, we would have little or no unemployment in the country.

“How can this happen” you may ask, “when there is a Constitution that protects people’s rights?”Especially when that protection includes the words “not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause”?. This protection must surely mean all forms of freedom, and especially the right of all individuals to enter into employment agreements on terms and conditions acceptable to them, particularly when there is no other way of securing the “freedom and security of their person” as promised by the Constitution.

The FMF has for many years argued for the rights of the unemployed to be protected from arbitrary action that makes them unemployable, such as rigid labour laws, minimum wage laws and the extensions of bargaining council agreements that result in job losses. Because the FMF is so concerned about South Africa’s mass unemployment, we decided that enough is enough. If no one else is going to intervene on behalf of the unemployed we will have to do it.

Consequently, on 5 March 2013, the FMF instituted a constitutional challenge to South Africa’s Labour Relations Act 1995 in the Gauteng North High Court. The basis of the challenge is the constitutionality, negative effects and unintended consequences of the legislation which permits the extension of bargaining council agreements to non-parties. Our challenge is not against the bargaining council system. It is against the system of extension of agreements concluded by private players, to non-parties (LRA S32), which is a function that constitutionally rests with the State.

We hope that government, organised labour and organised business will welcome an amendment to the legislation that will relieve the Minister of Labour of the obligation to extend agreements to non-parties when such an action is not in the best interests of all concerned. Labour unions and business should support such an amendment because any action that increases employment in the country in the long term will benefit them; for the unions it will mean more members and for business a larger labour pool.

We hope that wiser heads will prevail and that a solution will be adopted that will rapidly reduce unemployment to no more than the level in other countries with economies similar to South Africa’s. The FMF would be very happy to work with all concerned to find a solution that will increase employment without disturbing the job security of those who already have jobs. As a nation, none of us, including the members of the governing party, can afford to sit on their hands while almost eight million people, a number equal to the total population of Johannesburg, are unemployed. The call from the unemployed, which must be heard is: “Just let me work!”

While there is work to be done on these two major projects (property rights and labour rights) the FMF will not rest until every lawful occupant of a former apartheid-style house has fully tradable freehold title deeds to their property, and all people who want to work can enter into agreements with employers, without fear of outside intervention, on terms, conditions and wages that are acceptable to them.

Source: This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.


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