INEFFICIENT collective bargaining must bear some blame for the failures in labour relations this year, including the wave of illegal strikes, labour analysts say.
The last time South Africa’s collective bargaining structures were changed was in the mid-1990s when key labour legislation, including the Labour Relations Act, was promulgated.
The labour laws are being amended again, but talks have been continuing for two years and are unlikely to end next year.
John Brand, a dispute resolution specialist at Bowman Gilfillan, said collective bargaining had to change or employees would continue to suffer.
"There are many glaring problems in collective bargaining which have persisted for too long," Mr Brand said.
Adcorp CEO Richard Pike said business could work with the labour law amendments in their current form. "The original draft was highly problematic. The current draft is far better," he said.
Mr Brand said "coherent and comprehensive" industrial sectors had to be demarcated to improve collective bargaining.
The way minimum wages and working conditions were established in the economy should also be changed, he argued. These needed to be set for each sector by an independent tribunal of experts after consultation with interested parties, and in accordance with a national development strategy.
Spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Patrick Craven said that the federation would make pronouncements on how minimum wages should be established at an event in March.
Cosatu is calling for a national minimum wage for all workers.
Mr Brand said organisational rights needed to be awarded to unions which were sufficiently representative in an enterprise unit within a workplace. There also needed to be collective bargaining rights for unions which were representative of the majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit.
He said balloting also needed to be regulated. This included organisational rights ballots, collective bargaining ballots and strike ballots.
Strike protection should only apply if it was passive and non-violent, Mr Brand said.
He believed essential services needed to be regulated as the vagueness relating to it in legislation had been a major problem when determining the legality of certain strikes.
Labour analyst Tony Healy said whenever Eskom workers went on strike, they put their jobs at risk as they were part of an essential service.
Cosatu is trying to get a minimum service level agreement with Eskom so that some workers can strike.
The CEO of the National Employers Association of South Africa, Gerhard Papenfus, said while it might be rash to overhaul collective bargaining without a detailed plan, a one-size-fits-all mentality would not assist.
"You cannot apply the same wage and bargaining to every worker in the country," he said.