The right to strike is something that is entrenched in South African legislation, however, parties sometimes fail to consider the negative effects that a strike may have on employers and employees. Thus it is often of benefit to both parties to try to resolve disputes internally before approaching bodies such as the CCMA or Bargaining Councils. It is vital that the employer and the union involved maintain an effective relationship which can often result in disputes being resolved internally.

One of the most important aspects of a collective bargaining relationship between an employer and a trade union is having an effective channel of communication. This is extremely important as it often occurs that parties only communicate meaningfully once a dispute has been referred, and further, that information is incorrectly communicated between the parties. It is advised that employers and unions be in communication regarding any issue at the workplace. Hence it is vital that employers notify the union of any changes that are to be implemented at the workplace, more importantly, that all necessary changes should be discussed with the union and employees. The role of the shop stewards is vital in that they are, in essence, the mouthpiece for employees but also assist in effective communication between employers and the union. Shop stewards should be adequately trained in order to try to deal with disputes internally and should be aware of the necessary prevailing legislation of the sector they work in, as well as all internal grievance procedures.

Employers should also advise the union on general work procedures, grievance procedures as well as the necessary code of conduct. Doing this ensures that all parties are on the same page when negotiating in regard to various aspects of collective bargaining. More often than not, had parties communicated more efficiently earlier, a dispute could have been resolved in advance prior to a dispute being referred.

Parties must also be aware of the prevailing legislation that governs the specific sector that they are in. This alone can often avoid unnecessary confusion and streamline the number of disputes which may be referred.

Negotiations should always be carried out in good faith, and it is encouraged that parties maintain transparency throughout negotiations in order find common ground. A lack of transparency can often lead to a party feeling aggrieved and may prevent parties from fully participating in negotiations. An example of this is when parties are negotiating a wage increase, an employer advising the union of its difficult financial position will result in more realistic expectations in regard to increases or may even result in such negotiations being put on hold until such a time as the company is in a stable financial position.

It would also be advisable that specific persons are appointed in order to liaise with the union, its members and shop stewards. Doing this allows for a better working relationship between parties. Such a person should try to adopt a neutral approach in regard to negotiations and should aim to primarily resolve disputes in an amicable manner rather than pick a side.

Most importantly is the attitude that parties adopt. Parties must deal with each other in good faith and avoid unnecessary delays, as this can often lead to a breaking of trust between an employer and a trade union.

Should you require any further information, kindly contact your nearest CEO office.


Article by: Krian Rathinam

Dispute Resolution Official – Durban