The impact of the labour relations act on minority trade unions: a South African perspective

29 January 2014

The advent of the new political dispensation in 1994 heralded the coming of a new labour dispensation. Labour relations and labour policies changed significantly from that which prevailed under the previous government. The review of the labour legislation framework was at that stage a priority for the new government, with specific focus on the review of the collective bargaining dispensation. The abuse of trade unions under the previous government gave rise to a unique entrenchment of labour rights in the Constitution. The drafters thereof were determined to avoid a repetition of this abuse after 1994. Section 23 of the Constitution goes to great lengths to protect, amongst others, the right to form and join a trade union, the right of every trade union to organise and the right of every trade union to engage in collective bargaining. In furtherance of section 23(5) of the Constitution, the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 was promulgated. One of the most significant changes of the LRA was that it now provided for legislated organisational rights. Commentators have often viewed the LRA as favouring larger unions and as conferring clear advantages on unions with majority support at the establishment or industry level. It is within this context that this article examines the impact of section 18 of the LRA on the constitutionally entrenched right of every person to 2 freedom of association, the right of every trade union to engage in collective bargaining, and the right of every trade union to organise. Furthermore, this article explores the justifiability of the impact of section 18 on minority trade unions in terms of international labour standards and the Constitution. In part one the article examines the concept of majoritarianism, pluralism and industrial unionism in the context of South African Labour market. Part two deals with the impact of section 18 of the LRA on minority Trade Unions. Whilst part three explores the concept of workplace democracy. Part five investigates the applicability of international labour standards in the context of the right to freedom of association. Part four ends up with conclusion and recommendations on the impact of section 18 of the LRA.