Collective bargaining and worker participation

17 Sep 2013

Introduction: The relationship between collective bargaining and worker participation has two main aspects - • the interaction between collective bargaining as a process (at workplace; sectoral and subsectoral level) and the process of worker participation through workplace forums and similar structures; and • the demarcation of topics for collective bargaining from topics dealt with by workplace participatory structures. This article is concerned with the first aspect - the organizational and institutional sides of the process. Collective bargaining is widely accepted as the primary means of determining terms and conditions of employment. In South Africa its importance has been underlined by the legacy of deep adversarialism between organized labour and employers, the recent struggles of the trade union movement to achieve recognition and continued wariness on the part of unions against real or perceived attempts by employers to undermine their hard-won status. The right to bargain collectively has been written into the Constitution and is guarded jealously in the workplace. In this polarized climate it is inevitable that trade unions will tend to view participatory structures as a potential threat, an instrument that may be used by employers to marginalize unions and avoid collective bargaining.