What process should be followed when it comes to Plant-Level Negotiations?

Plant-level negotiations can best be described as formal discussions between Employers and Employees who have different aims or intentions, particularly in the workplace, during which they try to reach an agreement. This form of negotiation within a specific workplace can be conducted informally in terms of a one-on-one discussion with the Employer and the Employee seeking to negotiate on a particular topic or term and condition of employment or formally in terms of a specified clause as per a collective agreement. A typical example of a plant-level negotiation clause in a collective agreement reads as follows:

“On condition that the Trade Union still enjoys majority status, all wage adjustments, wage rates and collective conditions of employment shall be negotiated during (Month) of each year for implementation no later than the first week of (Month) of the same year.”

To enable the Employer and its representatives to prepare themselves for the meeting adequately, the Trade Union must submit, in writing, a request for such negotiations together with all relevant documents at least 1 (one) month in advance, and the Employer shall respond in writing within 1 week of receiving such proposal.

The motivation for plant-level negotiations is to create an environment whereby Employees can express their requests which can range from wage demands, additional employment benefits or general changes to terms and conditions of employment, to name a few. This form of negotiation can be conducted in the following ways:

  • An individual Employee engages their Employer directly, either verbally or in writing.
  • The appointment of a workplace forum whereby a group of Employees appoint a spokesperson to address and negotiate with the Employer on their behalf.
  • A Trade Union duly appointed and registered by the Department of Employment and Labour writes to and negotiates with the Employer on behalf of their members.

Plant-level negotiations are not limited to a particular individual or group of Employees. It can happen whereby a few individual Employees or multiple Trade Unions within a workplace negotiate on the same or similar issues with an Employer.

To be adequality prepared for plant-level negotiations, Employers should apply the following framework:

  • Evaluate the list of demands;
  • Update and consult with directors, shareholders, and management of the workplace;
  • Plan a detailed response to each demand;
  • Determine and formulate the structure of the negotiation meeting and feedback structure.

The goal is to negotiate in good faith throughout the negotiation process, which could include multiple sittings, side caucuses and continuous feedback to representatives. The purpose of plant-level negotiations is to reach a harmonious resolution to avoid unnecessary deadlocks between the parties, which could result in the matter being referred to the CCMA for adjudication and possible strike action.

Article By: Tammy Barnard
Senior Dispute Resolution Official – CEO Cape Town