2019 is going to be an interesting year in the South African labour relations environment.  There are a number of reasons for this.  To begin with, the evolution of the South African Confederation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) will continue to influence the labour relations environment by increasing union rivalry.

SAFTU is by no means in the same league as COSATU in either breadth of influence, or membership, but what it does do, and has done, is duplicate union presence within sectors.

Prior to the break-away of SAFTU from COSATU, there was, pretty much. One union per sector, and that was typically a COSATU union.  Things have changed.  SAFTU is now seeking to compete with COSATU in every sector, and that results in union duplication.  This has been particularly evident in the transport sector where the splintering of COSATU’s South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) has been quite significant, both in term of the SATAWU equivalent, and other new independent transports sector trade unions, all vying for a sector which was, up until quite recently, dominated by SATAWU.

The proliferation of trade unions in industry sectors breeds union rivalry.  It is already evident, and will continue to grow in 2019.  The old COSATU slogan of ‘one union one industry” is under severe strain, given the emergence of SAFTU, and the growing influence of FEDUSA.

This is not good news for employers.  Union rivalry is a challenge for employers in that it promotes a multi-union workplaces, which requires duplication of, for example, organizational rights agreement san collective bargaining, if unions elect not act in unison.

It can, as it has in the past, lead to workplace violence and worse, as unions compete for membership in the same workplace.

Unions are all too aware union rivalry, and this has led to an increase in demands for closed shop agreements to shut out competing unions.  This is made all the more challenging by relatively recent amendments to the Labour Relations Act which gives organizational rights previously reserved for majority unions, to minority unions.  This includes the deduction of union subscriptions, workplace access, and the appointment of shop stewards.  It is now quite possible, for example, for more than one trade union to have statutory shop stewards appointed in a single workplace.

New labour legislation, and amendments to key pieces of existing labour laws will also add complexity to the South African labour relations environment in 2019.

Let’s start with the Minimum Wage Act, and its’ Regulations. Approximately six and a half million workers will benefit from the introduction of the R20.00 per hour minimum wage, with a lesser sum being applicable to agricultural and domestic workers, at least for now.

The CCMA will be largely responsible for resolving disputes relating to the failure by an employer to pay the prescribed minimum wages.  It remains to be seen how the CCMA will manage this increased burden on its case load, when its resources are already severely stretched.

It is furthermore highly likely that there will be a multitude of applications lodged by employers to be exempted from paying the prescribed minimum wages.  The regulations governing the Minimum Wage Act appear to set out provisions for employers to be exempted from paying the prescribed minimum wages, which could spawn widespread minimum wage exemptions.  This has already caused disquiet amongst labour federations, although minimum wage exemptions are capped at no less than ninety percent of the applicable minimum wage, and are for a maximum period of twelve months.

Other new labour law developments include paternity leave and secret strike ballots, both of which are very significant.

In simple terms, men will now qualify for two week’s paternity leave, and adoptive parents are included in this benefit, although only applicable to one of the parents.

The introduction of secret strike ballots is to be welcomed.  This enables union members themselves to vote for, or against, embarking upon protected strike action, without fear of intimidation.  It also removes the almost carte blanche decision making which union officials had to prompt strike action.

A further component of the evolution of new labour legislation is the well-intended extension of advisory arbitration awards in labour disputes which warrant dispute resolution intervention when it is the public interest for such intervention.  The shortcoming however is that the efficacy of advisory arbitration awards is minimal, as they are not binding on the parties to the dispute.

So 2019 is expected to be another year of labour strife with increased turmoil.  For example, we expect the number of disputes referred to the CCMA to exceed one thousand a day before year-end, including minimum wage disputes.

Fasten your seat belt.