The South African Federation of Trade Unions is alarmed at the report that five bus companies have applied to be exempted from complying with the recent bus sector wage agreement.
Algoa, Golden Arrow, Putco, Amogelang and Phumatra Transport Enterprise signed an agreement with unions, following a 26-day strike, that workers would receive a 9% wage hike in the first year and 8% in 2019.
Now they want the agreement declared unaffordable, unlawful, unfair and unconstitutional and are reported to be threatening to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.
If this application succeeds it could not only mark the end of collective bargaining in the bus industry but in the country as a whole and shift the balance of power in the workplace even further in favour of employers than it is already.
The federation has been warning since its launch that collective bargaining is under threat, despite the assurance in the South African Constitution that “Every trade union, employers’ organisation and employer has the right to engage in collective bargaining”.
The International Labour Organisation also insists that “Collective bargaining is a fundamental right. It is rooted in the ILO Constitution and reaffirmed as such in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Collective bargaining is a key means through which employers and their organizations and trade unions can establish fair wages and working conditions. It also provides the basis for sound labour relations… Enhancing the inclusiveness of collective bargaining and collective agreements is a key means for reducing inequality and extending labour protection.”
It is outrageous therefore that bus bosses, who still received government subsidies when workers were on strike and not being paid, can reverse the gains achieved by workers who sacrificed their wages for four weeks under the no-work, no-pay rule.
Even worse, some workers have lost their jobs since the strike was called off. Putco has just finalised the retrenchments of 220 employees and abolished 380 positions.
The advantage of the collective bargaining system is that allows for multi-employer bargaining with all unions in a sector. If the council represents at least 50% of those in the sector, agreements on wages and working conditions can also then be extended to all other employers and unions in the sector, whether they form part of the bargaining council or not.
It has normally been these small employers outside the bargaining councils who have applied for exemptions. They accuse big employers of keeping out small competitors and entrenching their dominance in the sector, by using the bargaining process to reach agreements that are “unaffordable” for smaller players to pay the agreed wages.
Collective bargaining is not without its problems, but at least creates a platform for unions to come together and present a united front to employers. It makes it harder for employers to compete with other by cutting wages and prices.
But if big companies which sign collective agreements can also argue for an exemption claiming that financial difficulties prevent them from paying the agreed wages increases, or that the agreement they ave just signed was unlawful and unfair, it will set a precedent for any employer to do the same, and make all collective bargaining a futile charade and waste of time and lead to ts collapse.
This will inevitably undermine unions’ collective strength, leading to lower wages, and more precarious working conditions. Already, according to in a new study for the UN’s International Labour Office UCT academic Shane Godfrey, collective-bargaining agreements cover only 18.6% of all employees in the labour market. Only 9% of wages are set through centralised bargaining structures. These figures could now plummet even further, and plunge more workers into poverty and precarious employment.
This move by the bus bosses makes SAFTU even more determined to oppose amendments to labour law currently before the National Council of Provinces. They are justified as a way to reduce the frequency and length of strikes, by compelling unions to engage in even more bargaining, negotiations and conciliation procedures than they already have to, before they can call a protected strike.
This will make it possible for employers to drag out negotiations for weeks before signing an agreement to prevent a strike, and then, if they copy the bus companies, claiming an exemption from honoring it. This will make it more, not less, likely to lead to spontaneous, unprotected and long strikes, as angry workers lose patience with negotiations which they know their employers can get out of having to implement.
Even the pro-capitalist Business Day has to admit that if large bus companies are wanting out on specific aspects of the agreement it “sends worrying signals about the likelihood of another bus strike and raises a red flag about the extent of the pressure the multi-employer collective bargaining system in SA is under”.
SAFTU demands that this application is immediately thrown out by the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council’s (Sarpbac’s) exemption authority. We will never accept such a blatant attack on workers.
The counter-attack needs to be launched at the Working Class Summit (WCS) to be held on 21- 22 July 2018 at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus.
It aims to unite civil society formations, employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the scourge of violence against women and children, into a struggle for a truly free, corruption-free, democratic and equal society.
We call on all those interested in participating in the WCS to contact us.
Tel: +27 (11) 331 0124
Fax: +27 (11) 331 0176
Physical Address, 34 Eloff Street, Johannesburg 2001