Govt to engage with labour movement


22 May 2013

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant wants to engage with South Africa’s labour movement on what she describes as the adversarial nature of industrial relations in the country, and the threat this poses to the system of collective bargaining.

Delivering her department’s budget vote speech in Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday, Oliphant said that ructions in South Africa’s mining industry, especially in the platinum belt, had changed the collective bargaining framework, while causing a considerable dent in the economy, the effects of which would be felt well into the future.

She said that talks on the character of a new and centralised bargaining arrangement in the platinum sector were continuing.

She announced that the department would hold a labour relations indaba to discuss the changes in the nature of collective bargaining in the country. It would be an opportunity to engage stakeholders and roleplayers in a conversation on the future of collective bargaining and social dialogue.

“We want to generate greater interests and concerns of social partners in respect of labour relations conflict, and identify measures to strengthen labour relations and dialogue in order to achieve labour marker stability and peace,” Oliphant said.

In addition to the mining labour problems, strikes in the road freight sector and protest action by Western Cape farmworkers reminded South Africa of just how important the “responsible exercise of labour relations to the country and the economy” was, she said.

The department would continue to protect vulnerable workers by using sectoral determinations, which she said remained one of the most effective tools for this purpose. These determinations regulate the minimum wage that workers can earn in any given industry.

In the past year, the department had amended and reviewed the determinations in the hospitality, contract cleaning, taxi, private security, civil engineering, retail and farmworker sectors.

Oliphant said proposed changes to the Unemployment Insurance (UIF) Act would give increased benefits to beneficiaries, increase the benefit period from 8 to 12 months, which meant that workers would be paid over a longer period without additional contributions, and give domestic worker maternity benefits.

Also, the income replacement rate for women on maternity leave would be increased to 66 percent from 38 percent. Workers would also get adequate time to claim UIF benefits – up from six months to 18 months for death benefits, and to 12 months for other benefits.

The UIF continued to play a vital role in creating jobs, Oliphant said, noting that a partnership between the UIF and the Industrial Development Corporation had created 21 234 new jobs and saved 20 161 jobs in 2012/13.

The minister said that over the year R30.4-billion had been allocated to Ditsela, the workers’ education institute that builds capacity by training union officials.

During 2013/14, she said, more than R8-million would be invested in job creation initiatives in mining beneficiation, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. The Public Investment Corporation had been allocated R3.2-billion to plough into job creation projects.

An allocation of R39-million per annum over the next three years would be used to assist companies in distress to save jobs and keep people in employment.

Oliphant said her department had received an appropriation of R2.415-billion for 2013/14. The focus of spending over the medium term would continue to be the protection of vulnerable workers, the reintegration of work-seekers into the labour market, and ensuring decent work.

However, the first priority in the coming financial year would be to work together to achieve a peaceful environment in labour relations and collective bargaining, Oliphant said.