Collective Bargaining has become an integral part of labour relations in South Africa. Industry Level Collective Bargaining occurs when organised labour in the form of Trade Unions negotiate with Employers or Employer Organisations such as Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO) within a specific industry or sector.

Many industries have established Bargaining Councils as a result of such Collective Bargaining. These Councils’ primary purpose is to facilitate Collective Bargaining among stakeholders in a particular industry. The parties create Bargaining Councils by agreement and are usually registered with the Department of Employment and Labour (DOEL). These Councils operate under the auspices of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), and Designated Agents are appointed to monitor and enforce compliance with the specific Collective Agreement within that industry.

Industry Level negotiations are industry-specific, and in South Africa, numerous industries are recognised with their own set of rules and regulations governing working conditions, among others. Some examples include the Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council (MEIBC), the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI), the Motor Industry Bargaining Council (MIBCO) and National Bargaining Council for the Private Security Sector (NBCPSS).

Negotiations can also often lead to disagreements between the labour force and Employers who may have differing views on a particular topic. In such instances, specific steps should be followed when a dispute arises within an industry between the stakeholders of a Bargaining Council.

The first step should always be an internal dispute resolution process, which involves an attempt to resolve the dispute internally with the relevant parties within the Bargaining Council. This informal process can be carried out through meetings and further negotiations between stakeholders.

Should the first process be unsuccessful, formal dispute resolution may be sought, which involves referring the matter to the relevant Council for Mediation or Conciliation.

If this step fails to resolve the matter, it may be referred for Arbitration. During this step, an independent party (Arbitrator) appointed by the relevant Council hears both sides of the dispute and makes a final, binding decision.

Should the parties still not be satisfied with the decision of the appointed Arbitrator, legal action may be instituted in the form of a Review of the Arbitration Award by the Labour Court, followed by an Appeal to the Labour Appeal Court.

It is important to note that these dispute resolution processes are a general overview of the steps to be taken. Many industries and Councils may have specific guidelines regarding processes, timelines, internal meetings, and procedures for referrals of formal disputes.

It is thus most beneficial for Employers, who are inherently stakeholders in these industry-specific Councils, to have representation within these Councils. As an organisation, CEO has seats in many of the Bargaining Councils functioning in our labour market, placing our Members in a position where their best interests are held in high regard.

Overall, Collective Bargaining and the establishment of Bargaining Councils have been instrumental in improving labour relations in South Africa. However, following the correct procedures when resolving disputes is crucial to protect all party’s rights and interests.

Article by Carlene van der Lith

Dispute Resolution Official at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)