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Address by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, on the occasion of the 2016 Nedlac Labour School held at Roodevallei, Kameeldrift in Pretoria

by lloyd last modified 2016-02-08 15:48

8 January 2016

Programme Director
Leadership of Cosatu; Nactu and Fedusa
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Molweni, Dumelang, Sanibonani, Good Morning, Goeie More;
Can we all rise and observe a moment of silence in honour of those who have passed on in the intervening period since we last met. ………..Thank you.
Thank you for inviting me to this important gathering of the esteemed leaders of organised labour in South Africa. I am deeply humbled by your show of confidence in me and I hope that my contribution will not disappoint.
There is no doubt that we are meeting at the time when labour is going through many challenges occasioned by many factors some of which we have zero control of. We must however invest time and energy in those which we can at the very least, exercise some degree of control. This platform gives all of us the opportunity to identify weaknesses and opportunities going forward, so that we can tool and retool for the road ahead.
In your letter of invitation you asked me to;
•    highlight the key instruments that are needed in order for Nedlac to achieve its full potential and how organised labour can contribute more effectively;
•    Address Sectoral Determinations
•    Talk to Compensation Fund
•    To give you some account of Jobs created as a result of Employment Tax Incentive for young people
•    An Overview of Farm workers and their working conditions
I will attempt to address some aspects of these issues as per your request, but I must say that I find it very odd that the trade unions are asking the Minister to brief them about issues that ordinarily it should be the unions briefing the Minister about.  I will touch on this later on.
There is general admission that organised labour has perfected the art of opening closed doors, but instead of walking in, look for other closed doors to break open. The habit of not walking in when doors are opened, robs the trade union movement the opportunity to leverage the existing policy space. Unless organised labour sets and shapes its own agenda on what it wants to achieve, chances are you will be sucked into someone else’s game plan.
I must re-iterate the principle that Governments role in the labour market policy space is to create policy space for trade unions to operate with relative ease and not to be an extension of trade unions. Lately the labour movement demands the Minister to do things that ordinarily the unions should be dealing with. How can a proper trade union worth its salt, ask the Minister to give it ideas of how to fight and protects its members?
Where ever you go, both internationally and in the African continent, people will tell you how envious they are about the South African Labour Laws, the question though is to what extent is the labour movement leveraging the enabling environment that our labour laws continue to create? To what extent is the labour movement taking full advantage of the existing policy and regulatory space?
What prevents the labour movement from playing the leading role that it has occupied for many years? We need honest and frank answers to these questions comrades.
Chairperson: The magnitude of the threat of job losses in the mining sector is so huge that the socio-economic consequences could be devastating for the society. Already many mining towns have become ghost towns as mining companies shut down operations. Mining supporting industries such as Steel manufacturing and downstream industries including the Spaza shops, already feel the impact of what is happening in the mining sector. Therefore trade Unions as the first line of defence for workers, have to be equal to the task.
Instead of the misguided rhetoric this days where people tend to ask the Minister of Labour on what is to be done, when that question can best be dealt with by the Trade Union Leadership and business leadership as representatives of the workers and business respectively. We need to come out of this meeting with concrete proposals on what is to be done individually and collectively to ameliorate the impact of the current economic challenges?
Whilst we have no control of what the Global Economy throws at us, we do have some control of how we respond.
South Africa is littered with instances where organised labour rose up and assumed leadership in times of stress in this country and achieved relatively good results. The 1998 Presidential Jobs Summit; The 2003 Growth and Development Summit Accord;
The 2008 Electricity Summit which resulted in the conclusion of a social compact on how to respond to load shedding and black-outs at the time; The 2009 Framework for South Africa’s response to the Global Economic Crisis, are but some of the living examples of where organised labour played a leading role. The key question therefore is to what extent can labour once again, show leadership in the current difficult economic times. Is it not possible for organised labour to initiate interventions similar to the 2003 Growth and Development Summit Accord, I ask?
Is it not possible for organised labour to lead in the same way as they did in 2009 when they helped shape the Framework for South Africa’s response to the global economic crisis?
Is it not possible for organised labour to see solutions beyond the obsession with Section 77 notices?  Is it not time Ladies and Gentlemen, that Section 77 is understood as the means to an end and not an end in itself?
Whilst I do not have answers to these questions, I think the collective wisdom in this room is more than capable of crafting something both creative and unconventional that could minimise the impact of the current economic challenges. We need to look beyond the conventional wisdom and come up with new ground breaking ideas that could help the country weather the current global economic storm and the social consequences that may come with it.
Those who know better often say, nature does not allow a vacuum, an astute and totally accurate observation. In the absence of creative ideas, bad ones often fill the space.
Therefore it follows that if organised labour does not use this opportunity to propose creative interventions to address the current challenges, someone else will and we may not like it.
Chairperson: In your invitation you asked me to give you some tips that will make Nedlac achieve its fullest potential and how organised labour can contribute more effectively. With respect, I find this question very awkward and possibly misplaced. Nedlac is a contested terrain where all four constituencies contest for space in shaping policy including government. Just imagine if government were to ask Labour for tips on how to contribute effectively in Nedlac.
Let me remind you as I think some of you may have forgotten that Organised Labour, Cosatu in particular, demanded for a forum like Nedlac during the Codesa Negotiations. So it can be said without fear of contradiction that Nedlac is Organised Labour’s Brainchild. It would therefore be important that organised labour should be more concerned than anybody else if Nedlac is performing below par, but I don’t think you can ask the Minister for tips, rather ask the Minister to support measures that you want to put in place to improve your contribution to Nedlac, or make Nedlac a better performing entity.
Nedlac is no doubt an important institution and indispensable in the way we do things in South Africa. For the first President of the democratic South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, the launch of Nedlac was of towering significance, and in his opening address he said, and I quote “Democratisation must reach beyond the narrow governmental domain, and Nedlac represents the broadening and deepening of our democracy by directly engaging sectors of our society in formulating policies and in managing institutions governing their lives.”
As you may very well know by now that the ink had barely dried on the signing of the Nedlac founding declaration when social partners got the first test in the form of the tabling of the Labour Relations Amendment Bill. It took social partners 10 weeks of hard work to reach key agreements on the Labour Relations Amendment Bill.
This was followed in its foot-steps by the introduction of the more difficult and complex Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill which took about 18 months to complete. Once again another true testimony that with a clear vision and being focussed on what we want to achieve, very little is impossible.
Whilst it would be difficult to answer your question about the key instruments that are needed in order for Nedlac to achieve its full potential and how trade unions can contribute more meaningfully, as that is the key question that this gathering must answer. I will however share with you a couple of observations that you may take into account when conducting your introspection.
It is true that most of the leaders who conceptualise, concretise and formed Nedlac are either retired or moved on to other things. But is it true that the institutional memory and the raison dêtre for creating Nedlac may not have been passed on to the current generation?
Whist Nedlac is revered not only in the African continent, but globally, it is important that social partners must understand that the environment within which the organisation operates has become more dynamic and extremely complex.
Social dialogue is time-consuming and not an event, but a process, which at times produces the results we all agree with; it is sometimes quick and at times pains-takingly slow.
Others see it as an institution that has out-lived its usefulness while others still have faith in it. It is said that generally senior leaders of social partners no longer see value in participating in Nedlac processes and structures, hence make no time to invest in its activities.  Some people argue that Nedlac was not designed to deal with the 21st century type issues since it is a 20th century formation. 
Nedlac operates within an extremely dynamic environment and fraught with high levels of conflict.  Nedlac remains a contested terrain and it will be expected that from time to time that there will be tensions. The Nedlac Constitution makes provisions for all social partners to introduce policy in Nedlac for engagement, but to date, it is only government that has played this role with very little from other social partners. Yet, there are interest groups that seek and prefer to engage the state directly instead of channelling their concerns through Nedlac.
What you put in is what you get out!!! If constituencies do not deploy their best people in the Nedlac processes, there is no way that you can get the best results.
Albert Einstein once said, and I quote, “If you do what you always did! You will get the same results!”
If the Nedlac agenda is not inspiring, current and value-adding, it will be naïve to expect senior leaders to make time for it. Therefore I want to argue that the starting point to bring Nedlac back to its glory days will be to fix the agenda and the quality of proposals that are tabled for engagements. You also need to truly examine and identify what you need to change as organised labour that will contribute towards a better functioning Nedlac.
The bottom line though is that the Overall Convenors must take full responsibility for the functionality of the institution; and rein–in their respective constituencies.
President: I have observed with a degree of disappointment that in most strikes around collective bargaining issues, workers down-tool when the gap between what the employers are offering and their demand is so small that going on strike for weeks on end does not make social and economic sense. 
Imagine workers going out on strike because the employer is offering 8%, but are quite happy to come back after two weeks shouting victory when the employer improves the offer by a meagre point 05%.  
In some cases, parties end up calling on the government to assist in general and the Minister of Labour in particular.  I must say that calling on government to get involved in Industrial Relations operational matters is undesirable for a simple reason that government has created institutions for this purpose. The unwarranted intervention by government carries the real danger of undermining the very institutions it created in the first place.
Sectoral determinations must be understood as a stop gap measure that deals with the failure of trade unions to organise all workers.  It is designed for workers in those sectors of the economy where trade unions have failed to make significant inroads.
I find it very strange that trade unions have made no concerted efforts to organise in those sectors that are covered by the Ministerial Determinations. In fact the list of sectors that depends on the Ministerial Determinations as opposed to proper collective bargaining processes driven by trade unions is growing every year. Recently the number of workers who rely entirely on the Ministerial Determination for their minimum wages is in the order of 4.6 million, too large a number in a country that enjoys one of the best labour- friendly laws in the world.
We have recently gazetted sectoral determinations covering farming and forestry, the Wholesale and Retail is being finalised and Public hearing on the Hospitality Sector are underway.
Whilst we fully understand that sectors that are covered by Sectoral determinations are often the most difficult to organise, but we must also accept that relying on sectoral determinations will not necessarily lift these workers out of poverty as you know these merely set the floor.
I am deeply concerned about the low levels of trade union density in the economy.  There are lesser and lesser workers that are organised into strong trade unions these days.  It is said that globally only about 7 percent of workers are organised into unions. 
The latest figures show that in South Africa, trade unions represent less than 25 percent of the total work force.
Recently an employer organisation took the Minister of Labour to Court challenging the extension of a collective agreement to non-parties and succeeded. It was very strange that during the court case not a single protest march was mounted by the trade union movement to defend centralised bargaining. Trade unions did not even consider joining the Minister to defend this Court challenge.
If organised labour go underground when it must stand up to defend its revolutionary gains, then who would?
I have also received complains about the length of time it takes to conclude the process to extend bargaining agreements to non-parties. 
Often the blame for delays is placed at the door of the department even in cases where the culprit is the bargaining Council itself.  I therefore call on the unions to be assertive and be honest when the problem is not the department but themselves.
Chairperson: Whilst we have registered excellent progress on the labour policy front, there are equally a number of challenges; The unique feature of our labour Relations institutional arrangements is that their governance is tripartite in its construct.
For example Labour, Business and Government serve on almost all the advisory boards and governing bodies that are prescribed in the various labour laws, yet we have endless challenges in the manner in which some of them function. Often the blame is placed at the door of the Minister for dysfunctional entities when there are stakeholder representatives that are deployed to run those entities.
Could it be the function of who is deployed in those boards, or the inability of the federation to enforce accountability? Could it be that people are nominated purely on who is available rather than their capability to add value in the establishment? 
Since it is Nedlac that nominates people for various advisory boards, I urge you to pay more attention in ensuring that the Reps you nominate for deployment are capable of adding value.
Chairperson; The office of the Minister has become a call centre of some kind.  Not a day goes by without receiving a call and/or a text message from a worker who is unhappy about one thing or the other.  Whilst on the one hand this could be attributed to the fact that not all our labour centres and institutions are functioning optimally, the bulk of the complaints stem from the lack of service to members and the fact that over 70% of workers are not unionised.
The proliferation of bogus unions has also increased in the recent past.  Some of the new unions that file applications for registration are splinters from the very affiliates of these Federations. When I checked recently there were 185 registered trade unions and 23 Labour Federation on our books, far too many if you ask me.

In some cases trade unionism is being commercialised through consultant who register bogus unions solely as a means to represent desperate workers who have no-one to turn to in times of stress. Some workers take a chance to represent themselves at CCMA and other dispute resolution platforms, and because they have no idea of how these processes work, end up losing strong cases where, if they had proper representation, they would have won without breaking a sweat.
Ladies and Gentlemen; Given that our labour law was built on the foundation of strong trade unions, quite frankly this foundation has of late, become very shaky with the proliferation of small,  fragmented and very weak unions that are mushrooming all over the place. 
A sizeable number of trade unions are falling short in terms of compliance with the minimum requirements of the Labour Relations Act.
As you know that the LRA has introduced a new mechanism as a step before an outright de-registration could kick in.  We have taken a view that in fostering compliance, we will place more emphasis in assisting unions to comply rather than resorting to punitive measures.
Therefore we need a high level conversation to discuss the state of compliance of the unions and to work out a plan on how to ensure full compliance.
You have also asked me to address the Compensation Fund. I have always thought that the labour representatives that serve on the Compensation Fund Advisory Board in addition to their fiduciary responsibilities, have a duty to brief you on the Fund activities and what they are doing to address the challenges. I hope you will understand why it would not be proper for me to address you on the Compensation Fund as that can best be dealt with by your representative/s on the CF Board.
Chairperson: I have always thought that you all knew the Employment Tax Incentive for young people initiative is an off-shoot of the fiscal Policy therefore falls outside of my remit.  I hope you will understand that it would not be proper for me to even attempt to respond to your question of jobs created as a result of the Employment Incentive tax for young people.
Labour Reps that serve on the Public Finance and Monetary Policy are perhaps better placed to address this question I guess.
I want to argue that Nedlac has some unfinished business and we should make our business to complete this work. 
The Nedlac declaration called on all social partners to do three things, namely:
i.    Strive towards achieving Sustainable economic growth through facilitating wealth creation; as a means of financing social programmes; as a spur to attracting investment; and as the key way of absorbing many more people into well-paying jobs.
ii.    Foster greater social equity both at the workplace and in the communities to ensure that the large-scale inequalities are adequately addressed, and that society provides, at least, for all the basic needs of its people.

iii.    Promote greater participation by all major stakeholders, in economic decision-making, at national, company and shop floor level and foster cooperation in the production of wealth, and its equitable distribution.

I hope you will agree with me that these three tasks are still far from complete. 
We should ensure that social partners account for their commitments and that there should be regular feedback sessions of reporting and evaluating progress. Peer review might also be an excellent tool in dealing with progress and undoing bottlenecks where they exists.
There is no alternative to social dialogue and building working partnerships. Choosing key strategic interventions that promise the greatest impact within a short space of time is the way to go.  Others call this targeting the low hanging fruits. The key to making the most out of Nedlac is not a long list of issues that are often submitted for the Agenda, but short and well thought issues and focused engagements. It is better to do one thing that yields great social dividends that doing ten things badly.
I am arguing for a short but focussed Nedlac agenda and may be one or two flagship national projects as the starting point.
We will be tabling the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act Amendment Bill shortly.  We implore you to prioritise the consideration of the Bill in order to ensure it begins to benefit workers without unnecessary delay. The Bill seeks to extend coverage to Domestic Workers and it introduces enabling provisions for return to work, habilitation and rehabilitation.
Whilst talking about the Bills, let me indicate that judging from the kind of enquiries I get when doing walk-abouts, I get the impression that there are still many workers out there who are not fully briefed about the new Amendments to our Labour Laws and the benefits thereof.
I implore all of you to include in your outreach programmes the need to raise awareness about the recent amendments to our labour laws and what they mean for workers. Let’s use everything at our disposal to bring workers up to speed with what the new amendments mean to them and how they can derive maximum benefit.
Once again let’s follow Charlotte’s advice, When you climb the ladder, don’t kick, fold or store it away, bring someone with you.
“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .”  Amilcar Cabral.  No one can do this better than organised Labour.
I thank you


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