Media Statement from Herman Mashaba
Business man, member of the Free Market Foundation and leader of the Free Market Foundation’s constitutional challenge to the LRA
July 17 2014
Union violence is linked to extending bargaining council agreements
Unemployment, violent strikes and worker intimidation are the unintended consequences of bad legislation. This week, I learned about a small engineering company in the East Rand whose workers have defied the union picket lines. Union representatives arrived with names of “scab” workers in their possession and told the workers “your wives and children will not be safe at home while you are at work”. Threatening women and children is a disgrace, especially in our new democracy.
The current MEIBC strike is a classic example of a bargaining council agreement extension at work and illustrates why I am fighting to change legislation that forces the extension of such agreements. What is happening now means that any agreement reached will not be achieved on rational economic grounds based on market forces but by violence and intimidation of workers and employers.
The violence we are seeing is not only driven by unions’ attempts to push up settlements above market-led levels but also motivated by the fact that people are prepared to cross the picket line. In an effort to prevent this, strikers resort to violence.
The willingness of unemployed workers to cross picket lines is a consequence of the high rates of unemployment in South Africa. According to the expanded definition of unemployment the rate of unemployment in the first quarter of 2014 was 35.1 per cent which equates to 8.157 million unemployed people in South Africa.
People who are unemployed and desperate for work are more willing to brave the wrath of the unions. One of the causes of unemployment is the extension of collective agreements and this is at the heart of the FMF High Court labour law challenge.
What we are seeing is a vicious circle. The extension of collective agreements impacts on unemployment, which creates a willingness to cross picket lines, which perpetuates violence.
If the Minister of Labour were not compelled to extend collective agreements, employment levels would increase because smaller firms could hire more workers. Fewer people would cross picket lines (because those very hungry for work would have secured employment) and hence there would be less violence. Less violence would result in more realistic settlements.
The FMF challenge to S32 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) 1995 seeks to change the law to allow the minister some discretion to consider the wider socio-economic circumstances including the impact on SMEs operating or trying to start up within an industry
It is a stark reality that South Africa’s labour relations environment is in crisis.We cannot go on like this. South Africa cannot afford these damaging and increasingly violent strikes. Negotiation and dialogue is degenerating into dangerously entrenched positions from which there can be no winners, only many losers, especially the unemployed.
The FMF and I are pressing ahead in the legal process towards our day in court when I look forward to asking the minister to defend the damaging and anti-constitutional piece of legislation which is S 32 of the LRA 1995.
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