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Unpacking the New Agreement on Collective Bargaining and Strikes

12 June 2017
– 3 Minute Read


On 7 February 2017, various agreements were reached between business, labour and government (the social partners). These agreements could, if properly implemented, significantly shift the tone and conduct of collective bargaining and industrial conflict in South Africa.

The new consensus should produce a number of changes to the Labour Relations Act provisions on collective bargaining, and result in the adoption of a brand new and comprehensive code of good practice on collective bargaining, industrial action and picketing. Consensus of this kind has been scarce in recent years.

Are we seeing the green shoots of a new era of social cohesion? Is there a realistic chance that this signals the end of a damaging period of adversarial industrial relations, and does it suggest the start of a new era of social cohesion? Or is that simply naïve and misplaced optimism?

The Seminar

Our Unpacking the New Agreement on Collective Bargaining and Strikes seminar held at our Johannesburg office on 13 June 2017 addressed the potential impact of this development on business.

Chris Todd, head of Employment and Benefits Practice, facilitated an interactive panel discussion made up of the following panellists:

  • John Brand (recognised by Chambers and Partners as a “Senior Statesman” of South African labour law) discussed the impact of the proposed new code of good practice on the conduct and quality of collective bargaining, and the advisory arbitration award provisions that will apply when a strike becomes violent or is no longer functional to collective bargaining.
  • Khomotso Makapane and Rosalind Davey, both partners in the Bowmans’ Employment and Benefits Practice, examined the accord on industrial action and picketing.
  • Graham Damant, “doyen” in the field, with more than 30 years’ experience, described the challenges faced by the bargaining council model of collective bargaining and assessed the amendments aimed at strengthening centralised bargaining.

Available Resources

  • A short introductory interview with some of the presenters of the seminar, addressing the potential impact of this development on business.
  • eNCA Business Show interview with Khomotso Makapane. The coal mining sector has averted strike action after some of the country’s largest firms agreed to centralised negotiations. Earlier this year coal producers said they prefer a decentralised negotiation system, this was rejected by labour unions. Earlier this year various partners reached agreements on ways to improve collective bargaining and minimise strikes.  Bowman’s Khomotso Makapane spoke further about this topic with Joanne Joseph on eNCA Business Show.
  • post-seminar overview interview on collective bargaining and strikes.
  • Collective effort and culture change can curb violent strikes: The new accord and code of good practice that the social partners at Nedlac have signed on collective bargaining and industrial action is a step in the right direction but they do not apply across the board to employers and unions – only to those who are signatories or are members of the signatories. There are still many grey areas, such as appropriate songs and placards for pickets. Hopefully, clarity will be gained as employers and unions put the agreement into practice especially as strike season approaches.
  • Training and upskilling: Partners Chris Todd, Graham Damant and Rosalind Davey emphasise the importance of skilled negotiators at the bargaining table.
  • Key recommendations: Key seminar take-outs.
  • The new code and accord: Partner Graham Damant unpacks the new code and accord.