South Africa

Industrial Relations Framework

Labour legislation

The constitution of South Africa guarantees the right for employees to fair labour practices, form and join a labour union, participate in the activities and programme of a trade union and to strike. In the same vein, employers have the right to form employers’ organisations. Trade unions and employer organisations are also protected in the constitution in terms of determining their own administration, programme and activities, including creating and joining a federation. Below some of the other major pieces of legislation governing labour relations are summarised.

Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) (Act 75 of 1997)

The BCEA provides protection for employees’ rights in the workplace through regulating the basic conditions of employment and governing variation in the conditions of employment. The Act regulates working time, leave, employment and remuneration, employment termination, the prohibition of child and forced labour, variations of basic conditions of employment, sectoral determinations and monitoring, enforcement and legal proceedings.

Labour Relations Act

The labour relations Act regulates employer-employee relations by governing freedom of association, organisational rights, collective agreements, bargaining councils, strikes and lockouts, workplace forums, trade unions and employer organisations, dispute resolution, unfair dismissals and unfair labour practices. The Act is responsible for monitoring and enforcement so it establishes the Labour Court, the Labour Appeal Court and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) towards this end.

The Labour Court

The Labour Court which is equivalent to the High Court arbitrates on matters relating to labour disputes and can make appropriate order within its jurisdiction such as:

  • making a compliance order issued in terms of this Act, an order of the Labour Court, on application by the Director-General in terms of section 73(1) or 73(2);
  • condoning the late filing of any document with, or the late referral of any dispute to, the Labour Court;
  • confirming, varying or setting aside all or part of an order made by the Director-General in terms of section 71(3), on appeal by the employer in terms of section 72;
  • reviewing the performance or purported performance of any function provided for in terms of this Act or any act or omission by any person or body in terms of this Act, on any grounds permissible in law;
  • making a determination that it considers reasonable on any matter concerning a contract of employment in terms of section 77(3), which determination may include an order for specific performance, an award of damages or an award of compensation;
  • imposing a fine in accordance with Schedule 2 to this Act or for any contravention of any provision of this Act for which a fine can be imposed; and
  • dealing with any matter necessary or incidental to performing its functions in terms of this Act.

The Labour Appeal Court

This court deals with appeals from the labour court and has the same status as the supreme court of appeal.

Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)

The CCMA is a dispute resolution body established in terms of the Labour Relations Act as mentioned above. Employees who are of the opinion that they have been ill-treated or unfairly dismissed by their employers, may approach the CCMA to investigate their case.

The CCMA deals with any disputes that arise from labour matters, such as unfair dismissals, strikes or lockouts not in compliance with the Labour Relations Act, deadlock situations arising from illegal strikes or unresolved salary negotiations. Employees may also approach the CCMA to report what they conceive to be unfair labour practices in an organisation, or with grievances they have against employers, on condition that they have exhausted all possible grievance resolution procedures at their employer’s organisation.

A synopsis of these processes is given below:

  • Conciliation: Process where a commissioner meets with the parties in a dispute and investigates ways in which to resolve the dispute by agreement.
  • Mediation: The commissioner decides, in the conciliation process, whether to go ahead with mediation, facilitation or making recommendations in the form of an advisory arbitration award.
  • Arbitration: If the dispute is unresolved after conciliation or mediation, the parties may request the CCMA to resolve the dispute through arbitration. At an arbitration hearing, the commissioner gives both parties an opportunity to fully state their case. The commissioner then makes a decision on the issue in the dispute. The decision, i.e. the arbitration award, is legally binding on both parties.

The CCMA’s website can be visited for the forms for conciliation, mediation and arbitration:

Conditions of employment

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) governs that employers should have at least a verbal or written contract of employment in place for every employee in their service. Between 2008 and 2017, the share of employees with written contracts has increased slightly, from 78.5% to 80.1%. Over the same time, the proportion of workers who are permanently employed has declined from 64.9% to 61.4% while the shares in temporary employment or employment of unspecified duration have increased.

The majority of employees’ salary increments are determined by their employers alone (7.7 million or 55% in 2017 compared to 44% in 2008). Only a small number of employees have no regular salary increment, and the wage increases of over 4.2 million are determined either through the employer’s negotiation with unions or through bargaining councils.

Table 5.30: Nature of contract and annual salary negotiations (000s) (third quarter 2008-2017)

Indicator 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2017
Nature of contract/agreement
Written contract 9,324 9,028 9,946 10,541 10,807 11,171
Verbal agreement 2,959 2,474 2,373 2,450 2,705 2,778
Limited duration 1,393 1,409 1,685 2,019 1,928 1,856
Permanent nature 7,766 7,465 7,913 8,174 8,274 8,570
Unspecified duration 3,124 2,628 2,721 2,799 3,310 3,523
How annual salary increment is negotiated
Individual and employer - 1,652 1,490 1,205 1,094 1,149
Union and employer - 2,660 2,780 3,000 2,946 3,097
Bargaining council - 1,115 1,186 1,156 1,076 1,128
Employer only - 5,057 6,183 6,861 7,595 7,674
No regular increment - 902 615 718 736 786
Other - 117 65 51 64 116
Total - 11,502 12,319 12,992 13,512 13,949

Source: Statistics South Africa, 2017[99]

Source: Statistics South Africa, 2017[100]
Figure 5.16: Employees by duration of employment contract (third quarter 2008-2017)

  • Introduction
  • Broad Economic Indicators
  • Summary of Economic Conditions
  • Country Strategic Framework
  • Competitiveness and Ease of Doing Business
  • Foreign Aid and Foreign Direct Investment to South Africa
  • Corporate Governance
  • Implications, Challenges and Recommendations
  • Population
  • Living Standards And Poverty Levels
  • Income Distribution And Social Grants
  • Healthcare
  • Implications, Challenges and Recommendations
  • Qualifications Profile Of The Population And Labour Force
  • Levels of Schooling
  • Technical And Vocational Education And Training (TVET)
  • Tertiary Education
  • Quality Of Higher Education And Training
  • Human Capital Development And Income Inequality
  • Innovation in South Africa
  • Implications, Challenges and Recommendations
  • The Working-age Population
  • Economically Active Population
  • Employment
  • Unemployment Trends
  • Economic Growth and Job Creation Strategies
  • Employment Equity
  • Supply And Demand Of Different Skill Levels And Job Categories
  • Expatriates, Immigrants and the South African Diaspora
  • Wage And Salary Trends
  • Industrial Relations Framework
  • Trade Unions, Industrial Action And Dispute Resolution
  • Labour Market Efficiency & Talent Competitiveness
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Professional Human Resources Management In South Africa
  • Implications, Challenges And Recommendations
  • Country Profile

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