NUMSA welcomes dismissal of FMF bid to wreck collective bargaining

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa welcomes the dismissal by the Pretoria High Court on 4 May 2016 of the application by the Free Market Foundation (FMF) to change the law on collective bargaining.
The FMF were challenging section 32 of the Labour Relations Act, which allows collective agreements reached in bargaining councils to be extended to employers in the same sector who are not party to the negotiations. They wanted the wording of the act changed to ensure that the labour minister “may” extend agreements struck in councils, as opposed to “must” as it is now in the Act.
Their argument was that the current system enables collusion between large business and labour, to the detriment of smaller companies, potential new entrants and the unemployed.
Numsa, along with 47 collective bargaining councils, Cosatu and the SA Clothing and Textile Union, opposed the application. Numsa insists that collective bargaining is essential if unions are to improve workers’ wages and working conditions.
If the FMF had succeeded, collective bargaining agreements would become meaningless pieces of paper, which employers could treat as voluntary, and simply ignore them. Even those employers who signed would then be under pressure to renege on the agreements, as their competitors cut their labour costs below the rate agreed by the council. It would start a race to the bottom in wages.
Collective bargaining must not only be continued but must be extended to all workers, only 23% of whom are presently covered by collective bargaining agreements.  54% of all wage increases are simply imposed by employers impose without any negotiations. The FMF want to increase this figure from 54% to 100% by effectively destroying all collective bargaining structures and leaving all workers at the mercy of employers.
They are backed by the Democratic Alliance, whose candidate for Mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, launched the FMF case while still its Chairman.
Numsa will do the same to defend the Metal Industry Bargaining Council against the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), which is working very hard to destroy it.
While welcoming the court ruling however, workers should not drop their guard. The FMF are likely to appeal and will look for other weapons to intensify the bosses’ offensive against trade unions and workers’ living standards. Employers are hell- bent on weakening the unions and rolling back institutions like collective bargaining councils, which have at least partially enabled workers to resist their attacks.
Already over 70% of workers are not only not covered by collective bargaining; they are not even members of trade unions but are left to struggle on their own. Many employers ban unions in their workplaces and threaten to dismiss any who joins one despite their constitutional right to join. They cynically exploit workers fear of being unable to find any alternative employment to bully them into submission.
This bosses’ assault is a warning to workers that, as unions become more and more fragmented and consequently weaker, our class enemies have been quick to take advantage and gone on to the offensive.
That is why it is now so important and urgent for the implementation of the declaration of Workers Summit on 30 April 2016 to form a new independent, militant and democratic trade union federation to as quickly as possible.
The Summit also agreed that one of the new federation’s first tasks must be to organise the unorganised and vulnerable workers into the union movement, and to fight job losses and for decent living minimum wages for all workers.
Patrick Craven
Numsa Acting National Spokesperson
061 636 6057