THE number of bargaining councils has declined from 77 in 1996 to 46 last year, suggesting there are now fewer institutions to broker wage deals between workers and employers, according to a report by the South African Institute of Race Relations on Monday.
The institute’s SA Survey 2012 monitors long-term trends in the country’s political, economic and social developments.
In a time when the effectiveness of bargaining councils is being questioned, the report showed there was a decline in the number of annual salary negotiations conducted through them.
They have dropped from 9.6% of all wage settlements in the second quarter of 2011 to 9.4% in the second quarter of last year.
Bargaining councils were empowered to negotiate and enforce collective agreements, prevent and resolve labour disputes, as well as decide what might be an issue for the purpose of a strike or lockout, the institute’s report said.
Adcorp labour economist Loane Sharp said on Monday that bargaining councils were experiencing a crisis of relevance. "Fewer and fewer employees are covered by bargaining councils.
"They are becoming unrepresentative. We need to disband bargaining councils and let bargaining happen on a company by company basis," he said.
The institute’s head of special research, Anthea Jeffery, does not think South Africa needs more of these councils. "The centralised bargaining council system is deeply flawed," she said.
"It allows wage agreements reached between large employers and large unions to be extended to non-parties (often small businesses) within the same sector, which have never agreed to pay these wages and often cannot afford them," she said.
The consequences of such agreements were often negative for small businesses.
"These non-parties then face closure for non-compliance as is currently the case with a number of non-compliant clothing factories in KwaZulu-Natal," Dr Jeffery said.
"(Alternatively, the employers) must reduce their workforces so that they can pay the higher wages now required to a smaller number of employees. Either way, jobs are likely to be lost — and South Africa’s crisis of unemployment is likely to become yet more acute."
Meanwhile, the report noted a significant decline in the number of registered trade unions in recent years. There were 504 registered trade unions in 2002 with a total membership of 4.069-million. This was down to just 200 unions with a membership of 3.058-million in 2010.
The 2008-9 period was characterised by a recession that led to the loss of more than a million jobs. This could have negatively affected union membership.
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