Collective bargaining can be described as the relationship governing organized labour and employers, focusing mainly on the respective party’s interests. As with most relationships, tensions are created due to the completely polarized interests and expectations of the parties, as such legislature was put into place as a framework to guide negotiations between the respective parties.

As many of us have witnessed either in the media or at the workplace, when employers and employees fail to reach agreements, the overall outcome leads to industrial action where employees take to the street to picket and hamper productivity of their employers to apply economic pressure in support of their demands.

Now this is where collective bargaining comes into its own. The purpose of collective bargaining is to identify the underlying interests and expectations of the parties and to consolidate negotiations to an industry specific platform. This negates and even prohibits the need to conduct plant floor negotiations with each employer.

What does this mean to you as an Employer?

Ultimately, the agreements that are entered into at the collective platforms may be extended to all employers that fall within the agreements “industry” scope. This means that irrespective of whether an employer has refused to accept the terms and conditions or has not participated in the collective agreement, that employer will still be legally bound to the conditions.

How do I as an employer participate in the negotiations?

Much as labour is represented by trade unions to voice their interests, employers are represented by employer’s organizations. Therefore, employers can join said organizations to voice their collective interests.

Importance of Collective Bargaining

As stated by the current court appointed administrator of the MEIBC, Mr. A. Soobedaar, in a recent article, “the slow pace of delivering a social wage has resulted in employers being increasingly faced with demands related to issues that rightfully be the responsibility of government to provide… What falls through the cracks of the ballot box, is falling squarely on the collective bargaining table”. This sentiment rings true considering the challenges of economic growth in South Africa, to which big business is expected to pick up the bill.

The problem that enters the fray is that big business actively participates in the collective bargaining process, however small to medium enterprises often do not participate at all. This results in agreements being entered into, which many businesses cannot economically afford, or provisions are entered into which are not practically feasible for smaller businesses.

Currently there is no distinction between big business and SMME’s as to their obligations towards employees, and the only way a distinction will ever be introduced is by the participation of all parties at the bargaining table.

What employers need to ensure is that they are aware of which designated industry they fall under and what rights and obligations they have. Secondly, it is imperative that you align yourselves with an employer’s organization that can ensure your interests and concerns are being discussed at the bargaining table. Lastly, your employer’s organization will need your participation when these negotiations are ongoing.

What is crucial to understand is that collective bargaining is here to stay, it is not a new development as it has been utilized since the advent of organized labour. It has developed and will continue to develop within an ever changing economic and labour environment, hence the importance of participating in meaningful negotiations and discussions.

This ever-developing industry is however in desperate need of departing from adversarial negotiating strategies and political ideologies and should rather look to embrace a consensus seeking approach as to what your business needs to survive and prosper.


Article by: Danie de Wet

Collective Bargaining Co-ordinator

VIDEO: Johann Preiss, National Collective Bargaining Co-ordinator discuss the process of Collective Bargaining and how CEO can help you with these cases