Oliphant to meet with unions to ‘arrest potential threat’

2013-05-22 13:58

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant will engage with unions to “arrest the potential threat” to the collective bargaining system.

Introducing debate on her budget vote in the National Assembly today, Oliphant said the need for engagement with the labour movement was urgent after a year of violent strikes.

There was a need to discuss the “adversarial nature of industrial relations”.

“For the collective bargaining institutions to work, we need strong and sophisticated union organisations and strong employer bodies,” said Oliphant.

“The bulk of problems in the collective bargaining processes mirrored the state of organisation in the parties that are involved.”

Oliphant said violence during strikes over the past year, particularly events at Marikana, had a devastating impact on the country’s economy, the effects of which would be felt well into the future.

The recent ructions in the mining sector, especially in the platinum belt in North West, had left in its wake not only dead and injured people, but also changed the collective bargaining framework.

A series of violent strikes in other sectors – including in the agriculture and road freight sectors – had proven how important “responsible labour relations” were to the country and its economy.

But despite the troubling events, Oliphant said there was no need for alarm.

“We do want to appeal to citizens not to despair and throw (their) hands in the air on the basis of the challenges we are facing ... Our country is steeped in the art of negotiation and dispute resolution,” she said.

To deal with some of the problems, the department was arranging a labour relations indaba to discuss the future of collective bargaining.

“We want to generate greater interest ... in respect of labour relations conflict, and identify measures to strengthen labour relations and dialogue in order to achieve labour market stability and peace.”

Oliphant warned that too much government intervention during labour disputes was not ideal.

“The department has always deployed either my office or the institutions under my watch to assist parties in disputes and, so far, this has worked well.

“But this defeats the purpose, as collective bargaining institutions were created in order to free government from becoming involved in workplace issues,” she said.

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