Keynote address by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, on the occasion of the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining
16 October 2018


Programme Director
Chairperson of the PSCBC, Mme Ingrid Dimo;
Vice- Chairpersons of Council, Mr Mpfariseni Phophi and Ms Thandeka Msibi;
Chairperson of the PSC, Adv. Senzani
President of COSATU, Ms Zingiswa Losi;
Chairperson of the ILC, Mr Basil Manuel;
Director of the ILO Pretoria Office, Dr Joni Musabayana;
Presidents and General Secretaries of Trade Unions;
Senior Leadership of Government;
General Secretary of the PSCBC, Mr Frikkie De Bruin;
Distinguished delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning,

It is indeed an honour for me to address this august occasion of the hosting of the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council’s, Collective Bargaining Indaba.

The theme Advancing and protecting the workplace democratization through strengthening collective bargaining so as to ensure economic development, social justice and labour peace within the public service touches on a matter that is not only topical in South Africa, but globally.  Those of you who have been following the global debates on collective bargaining in the ILO, will attest to this fact.

The theme in itself, captures the essence of the aspirations of our people, the spirit of our constitution and almost every single piece of our labour legislations.  This event marks yet another milestone in the history of this Council. It is also a pleasant coincident that this Indaba, takes place in the year when we celebrate the centenary lives and legacies of the first State President of our democratic South Africa, Comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and Comrade Albertina Sisulu, stalwarts who contributed and sacrificed so much, so that you and I can experience what it means to be free.

These stalwarts left an indelible mark on our society for having laid a solid foundation for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society. Their legacies live on in our commitment to ensure a just and fair society for all, including the rights to dignity and freedom of expression.

To celebrate these lives, we need to stay true to the ideals, and unwavering commitment to justice, equality and a non-racial South Africa. Their strength, resilience and their will, and  “the never say surrender attitude” even in the darkest days of apartheid, remain an inspiration to many of us.

Programme Director, Esteemed delegates, I am particularly pleased that you will also be unpacking collective bargaining within the broader global context.  It will be important that as you deal with these issues in the various commissions, you also develop a common understanding of what the various global developments mean for collective bargaining. Finding convergence in how we define the real meaning of Advancing and protecting the workplace democratization through strengthening collective bargaining in order to ensure economic development, social justice and labour peace within the public service, is an excellent starting point.

Judging from the topics on the programme, I have no doubt that this provides the much-needed platform for the Council to grapple with the global challenges confronting all of us, and what it means for the labour movement globally and the labour market institutions.  We need to make it our business to understand the key drivers of the economic challenges we face.
It would be ambitious if not difficult, to make meaningful gains in the decent work and job creation agenda, if trade unionisation is on the decline.  International solidarity will remain a pipe-dream if trade unions are on the back foot. Trade unions by their very nature, work better if they have members en-masse. Maybe the starting point should be to discuss the question of how do we create conditions for workers to once again see value in joining trade unions.  How do we attract workers back into the unions and how do we forge unity among all trade union formations.

Ladies and Gentlemen; The Labour Relations Act, like all our pieces of labour legislations, derive its mandate from our Bill of Rights as provided for in the Constitution.  It is worth noting that the legislature by legislating bargaining councils in the public service, encapsulated the commitment and respect of the State as an institution.

Your own constitution as the Council, underscores your commitment to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights contained in the Bill of Rights.  The purpose of the Labour Relations Act, as you very well know, is equally to advance economic development, social justice, labour peace and the democratization of the workplace which is in line with our Bill of fundamental rights.  Your theme is therefore very relevant and apt in this regard.
You also know that in many countries, public service is by and large defined as essential service, which severely curtails who can, or cannot take part in a strike.  In South Africa, we have relied on the robustness of our collective bargaining institutions to create an environment where public sector disputes do not end up with strike action.  The key question we need to ask, is whether or not strike prevention in the public sector is real or just a mere ambition.

Chairperson, this Council has a history of having navigated difficult issues with a great deal of success as I will illustrate briefly.

Esteemed Delegates: Let us recall the first ever 2001 Public Service Job Summit which established joint mechanisms on transformation, employment practices and socio-economic development in the public service. We dare not forget that parties emerged from this historical summit with a framework agreement, later made an agreement of Council, committing to reducing levels of unemployment, eradicating poverty and restructuring the State to respond to the challenges of service delivery.

The framework agreement was a striking example of the synergy between the state as employer and public service unions through the PSCBC, in addressing issues of transformation and restructuring in the public service.

The then Chairperson of the PSCBC, now serving as Honourable Judge in the High Court of South Africa, Judge Edwin Molahlehi, said that “the agreement demonstrated the parties’ commitment to face the twin challenge of transforming the public service to improve the reach, depth, efficiency and quality of social service delivery, whilst at the same time improving the conditions of service, quality and sustainability of jobs for employees of the public service.” Indeed, we all concur with his observation.

You will also recall the signing of PSCBC Resolution 7 of 2002, the framework agreement on the transformation and restructuring of the Public Service. This agreement was the most comprehensive transformation initiative in the public service ever.   Although initially labelled as a mechanism for Government to retrench white workers and to act in a reversed discriminatory manner, no forced retrenchments as a result of the implementation of the agreement ever occurred. The majority of excess personnel were re-absorbed into the public service.

Again in 2002, the Council signed an agreement outlining a process of addressing the restructuring of the Government Employees Pensions Fund (GEPF). This was a milestone agreement allowing all public servants to be treated fairly in addressing the apartheid pensions system.

In 2006, Parties further bettered the macro-benefits of employees with the signing of PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2006 allowing for the establishment of a medical scheme for public servants, to be known as the Government Employees Medical Scheme, (GEMS), to ensure greater accessibility by providing affordable medical cover to all employees, especially lower income earners to take up medical cover. 

In 2013, Parties entered into PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2013 confirming the “service charter” for the public service into a collective agreement. We are all signatories to the Service Charter, a product of this institution, the PSCBC, which is a commitment by ourselves to provide better and more efficient services to all South Africans.  The core of this commitment, is to provide citizens with better services while, also respecting them as human beings. 

You will agree with me that the bottom line is about establishing a caring relationship, built on trust and respect between public servants and the citizens we serve.  It is true that this is only achievable through a professional, dedicated and highly skilled public service that is committed to serving the people of our country.  There were many other milestone Resolutions of this Council which laid the foundation on which this Council has registered many achievements.  This calls for celebration as it is a testimony that through social dialogue using the medium of collective bargaining we can overcome even the most challenging situations.

Margaret Chase Smith is quoted as once said, “Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation.”

This brings me to the need to come to terms with the fact that, being a public servant, is more than a job, but a calling and a conviction.  How many of us still subscribe to the principle that Margaret so aptly put forward? How many of us put the people first before our own individual interests?  How many of us are truly living the values of the “Public Service Charter”? These are some of the questions that demand attention and soul-searching if needs be.

Chairperson, allow me to return and reflect on a very important agreement signed in the PSCBC in 2013, the “Public Service Charter”. 

For Government, the delivery of improved services, in a dignified and professional manner, is a priority. We also acknowledge that as Government we need Public Servants that can stand up to the call and help Government Departments to deliver these services to meet the demands of citizens in an equitable and fair manner.

Can we rise to the challenge of treating citizens with dignity and respect and meeting their demands equitably and fairly? Is it impossible to ensure an effective, efficient and responsive public service?  I truly believe that this is possible. To this end, the Public Service Charter must serve as a guiding tool for good governance, democracy and sound working relations between the State, public servants and the citizenry. 

We can do this, by re-affirming our commitment to uphold the principles and values of public administration; Upholding the constitutional responsibility of the State to deliver services to citizenry; Noting the continued efforts of the State and public servants in building a developmental state; Acknowledge the service delivery challenges in the public service;
We must equally, be concerned about the corruption in the public service and its negative impact on the socio economic landscape; Believing in the rich history of our democratic dispensation, entrenching values and principles of human rights, social, economic and political rights; and Motivated by the proven value of collaboration in building a new South Africa.

Programme Director, Labour movements across the world, are, just like policy makers, grappling with challenges of scale, never seen before.  Our own Labour movement as a significant player in the international space, is very much familiar with the global challenges we all face.  We are all familiar with the new forms of work some of which are off-shoots of dominant mega-drivers of change. 

The internet of things, mechanisation of production methods, artificial intelligence and the list goes on.  We know that the complexities that accompany these key drivers, made it necessary for the ILO to establish a Global Commission on the Future of work, led by eminent persons which include our very own, His Excellency President Ramaphosa.

The Commission is investigating every facet of the fourth industrial revolution, the challenges and opportunities that it may bring. 
Whilst the scale of causalities cannot be quantified, likewise the opportunities that it will bring, are not known at this stage, it is better to prepare for all possible scenarios. 

The recent announcements by many companies of possible job losses in various sectors is a course for grave concern for all of us. To what extent are these job losses as a result of new technology and the uncertainty of the future of work, requires much deeper understanding of the forces at play.  We also need to understand the policy choices at our disposal, some of which may be painful.

You will also know, that the 2009 ANC Election Manifesto, called for a special focus on ensuring that occupational injuries and the unemployment benefits scope be extended to cover and guarantee retirement, disability and survivor benefits in the case of occupational injuries and diseases. It also called on us to put in place regulations to prohibit all known abusive practices in labour broking.

The 2014 Manifesto on the other hand, called on us to investigate the modality for the introduction of a national minimum wage as one of the key mechanisms to reduce income inequality.
Let me not say much about the National Minimum Wage dispensation that is on the verge of being signed into law, as a lot has already been said about this milestone achievement for the vulnerable workers in South Africa.
Let me rather underscore the point, that this achievement, is the first ever national minimum wage in South Africa.  Whilst it is by no means a living wage, it remains a good foundation going forward.  Just imagine that over 6 million workers would have remained in wages way below the proposed minimum wage, if it was not for this policy intervention.

Those of you who have been following the labour laws amendment process, would also know that we introduced enabling alignments to the Labour Relations Act, with a view to make it less difficult for the unions to do their work.  These include, but not limited to, redefining “DISMISSAL” in Section 186, the extension of the period within which the Minister must extend a collective agreement if the parties to the agreement are only sufficiently representative in Section 32(5)(c).  Section 32(2) which provides for improved representativeness requirements for the extension of collective agreements. 

You will know that Section 32(2) of the Act required the trade union party to the agreement, to represent the majority of employees and in addition, that the members of the employer organisations party to the agreement, be required to employ the majority of employees within the scope of the agreement.
The new provision only requires one or the other to meet this requirement. I expected that workers will celebrate this achievement as it provides the much-needed relief given the endless problems of declining trade union representivity in the various Bargaining Councils.

Another important change relates to Sections 32(2)(c), (5)(a) and 49 of the Act, which provide that the representativeness of bargaining councils and their constituent parties, would henceforth be determined annually by the Registrar and not each and every time a bargaining council referred a collective agreement to the Minister for extension. These are some of the changes that will relieve the parties of the administrative burden of conducting membership verification every time they apply to the Minister for extension.

The ANC Manifesto also called on us to take steps to strengthen existing laws to ensure faster change in employment equity in all workplaces, by enforcing an accelerated implementation of employment equity targets. 
The Employment Equity is there to enable us to achieve reasonable progress towards eliminating unfair discrimination in the workplace, and to achieve equitable representation of employees from designated groups by means of affirmative action measures.

Before pointing out what government is doing to address poor compliance with the employment equity, let me raise two grave concerns that bother me a lot.  Firstly, I get the impression when looking at the quality of employment equity plans that get submitted to the Department of labour annually, that workers seem have abdicated their responsibility to scrutinise and sign-off on the plans before they are submitted.

It cannot be correct that more and more designated employers continue to submit plans that are so weak, when workers on the shop-floor are checking both the quality and the genuineness of these plans. 

Often designated employers fail to show evidence of Employment Equity Committee nominations, and, that worker representatives indeed, accepted the process followed to compile EE Plans.

At times, even evidence of the list of EE Committee members, minutes of its meetings and Committee’s Constitution with a code of conduct signed by all members, cannot be produced.  Unless workers assume meaningful responsibility to ensure that employment equity work is not left to management and senior staff members with no contribution from workers, transforming the workplace will remain a pipe-dream. I urge you to play your role if we are to make this work.

The second concern relates to the recent report of the SA Human Rights Commission of its investigation on the constitutionality of Affirmative Action policy cum Employment Equity. I have observed that the Commission has concluded, that both the country’s Affirmative Action Policy and the Employment Equity Act were unconstitutional and not in sync with International Conventions. The report makes various recommendations on what needs to be done, including a recommendation to amend the Employment Equity Act. The Commission gives government six months to report back on steps taken to give effect to its recommendations. 

Clearly, this means that besides the general poor compliance with the Employment Equity, we are now faced with a new challenge of a Chapter 9 institution casting doubts on the constitutionality of this law. 
However, I am confident that since all our laws have to pass the Constitutional Master, before they are signed into law, the conclusions of the Commission will be deemed baseless.

Turning back to what the ANC government is doing to strengthen the employment equity.  The process to promulgate Section 53 which will introduce a compliance with the Employment Equity as a conditionality to do business with government and its entities. 

This will follow the same lines as the Letter of good standing in the case of the Compensation Fund and Tax Clearance certificate with respect to SARS.  We are convinced that in addition to other measures, which include slightly more severe fines for non-compliance, we will begin to see a change in compliance patterns.

Programme Director, I am raising these few highlights, merely to illustrate that our labour policies come a long way. 

Let me congratulate you as the PSCBC on hosting this auspicious event. We wish you all of the best with your engagements in this Indaba, let us have a product that is workable and that will achieve the objectives of your theme.

Let this Indaba signify hope for the nation and its people, as we live the values of the Public Service Charter. Let this Indaba emerge with the tool-box that is designed to ramp-up transformation that makes a real difference in the lives of those we serve.

We all grew up understanding democracy as the government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Can this Indaba in addition to the topics in the various commissions, pay some special attention to making the last part of this doctrine a reality.

I thank You