Naïve about the business constraints in our labour dispensation

Staff Writer | Apr 08, 2019
Our labour law is first rate, but it hinders our ability to be competitive.

In the Business Times of 7 April, acting editor Samantha Enslin-Payne refers to the annual Global Competitiveness Report of 2018 survey, which ranks SA 111th out of 140 countries when it comes to hiring and firing practice, 136th on co-operation in labour-employee relations, and gives it similarly low scores on flexibility of wage determinations and labour policies. 

But when it comes to workers' rights, we are ranked 25th. Enslin-Payne says “That is something for SA to be proud of. And when we discuss weakening those rights, we are forgetting where this country comes from. The labour laws promulgated after 1994 offer important protection to workers, some of whom are still vulnerable because they work in dispersed locations.” 

Enslin-Payne says there were scant objections by companies when they were required by law to provide separate facilities and services for employees and customers during apartheid.

“Policy uncertainty is another constant issue business raises as an obstacle to investment - labour laws provide one area in which there is policy certainty. It doesn't automatically follow that if we have more flexible labour laws, more people will be employed. And if it is so difficult to reduce a workforce, how are so many companies now able to shed jobs?”

It’s very concerning that an acting editor of the Business Times understands little about operating during apartheid, knows little about the changes business helped to bring about when black unions were recognised, and doesn’t appear to understand that when businesses are in trouble they have to retrench at a cost, and that the difficulty of hiring and firing mostly refers to the difficulty of firing because of misconduct or incompetence. 

The Labour Relations Act of 1996 was very much like the legislation that immediately preceded it - the difference being that the ANC government legislated a ‘one industry, one union’ environment which led to a situation like Marikana. The Act also removed the obligations for unions to ballot their members before a strike. 

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