Bargaining Councils

Regulating labour relations in industry

Bargaining Councils

Regulating labour relations in industry

A bargaining council (formerly known as an industrial council) is a body established in terms of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, by employers, employers’ organisations and trade unions in a particular industry sector or area.

Half of its members come from employers or employers’ organisations which employ the majority of employees in the sector or area, and the other half from representative trade unions which have the majority of employees in the sector or area as members. The powers and responsibilities of a bargaining council include:

  • Concluding and enforcing collective agreements about terms and conditions of employment or other matters of mutual interest at work;
  • Preventing and resolving disputes at work and establishing and administering funds for resolving such labour disputes;
  • Promoting and establishing training and education schemes and establishing and administering funds for this purpose;
  • Establishing and administering pension, provident, medical aid, sick pay, holiday, unemployment and similar schemes or funds for the benefit of one or more of the parties to the council or their members;
  • Developing proposals for submission to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) or other forums on policy and legislation that may affect the sector and area covered by the council;
  • Determining by collective agreement what may not constitute legitimate grievances for strikes or lock-out in the area or sector within its registered scope.

Registration and functioning

A council must apply to the Registrar of Labour Relations by describing the scope of the area or sector in which it wishes to operate and submitting a copy of its constitution. The constitution must describe how the council will function including how representatives are appointed and removed; how committees are established and how they will function; how decisions are made; the meeting procedure which will be followed; how records will be kept; how finances will be collected and administered; how disputes will be resolved; how exemptions from collective agreements will be considered; how applications for new members will be dealt with; how the constitution can be amended; and how the council will be wound up.

The registrar places a notice in the government gazette to give interested parties an opportunity to object on the grounds that the area and sector which the council has applied to cover is not appropriate; or that the council is not sufficiently representative; or that it does not adequately provide for the interests of small and medium-sized business to be represented. NEDLAC then has 90 days to consider the application and demarcate the appropriate sector and area in which the council is registered. Once a council is registered, its right to perform its functions is subject to an annual review of how representative it is of the entire area which falls within its registered scope, even if its member unions or employers’ organisations have no members in part of that area.

Collective agreements

Any collective agreement which is reached in a bargaining council is binding on the members of the council. The council may ask the Minister of Labour to extend a collective agreement to all parties which fall within the registered scope of the council, whether they are members or not. (see collective agreements.)

The public service

The Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) acts as a bargaining council for the entire public service on those matters which are regulated by uniform rules, norms and standards that apply across the service; those which apply to terms and conditions that apply to two or more sectors in the service; or those public services which are not assigned to any specific sector.

A bargaining council which is established by the pscbc in a specific sector has exclusive jurisdiction in matters specific to that sector and can, as far as the state as an employer in that sector is concerned, conclude collective agreements and resolve labour disputes. Disputes about PSCBC jurisdiction in a sector are dealt with by conciliation and arbitration.

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