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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - South Africa, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 48,600,000
Capital: Pretoria
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Five hundred workers at the Nelspruit football stadium were sacked and then rehired. Subcontracting, temporary labour and other forms of precarious employment are increasingly serving as ways for employers to violate trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The law provides for freedom of association. All workers, with the exception of members of the National Intelligence Agency (NTA) and the Secret Service, are allowed to join unions and are protected against unfair dismissal. Employers can, however, lay off workers on the grounds of "operational requirements".

Collective bargaining: The law provides for collective bargaining rights and organisational rights, such as trade union access to work sites and the deduction of trade union dues. The law contains provisions to encourage collective bargaining in small businesses, and among home workers and workers in the informal economy. Unions can seek redress in the courts for unfair dismissal.

Right to strike: The right to strike is recognised for all workers including those in the public sector, provided they do not work in essential services or the security forces. This right is undermined by the legal right of employers to hire replacement workers during a strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: With soaring food and transport prices, living conditions of ordinary people have worsened further. Companies are increasingly using temporary labour or other forms of precarious employment. In May, a wave of violence aimed at foreigners was unleashed in the townships with dozens of deaths. In September the government appointed Kgalema Motlanthe as the country's new president following Thabo Mbeki's resignation.

Anti-union pressure: In January the Building and Wood Workers' International was informed that an affiliate, the Building Construction and Allied Workers Union (BCAWU), was the butt of anti-union attacks from the new local management of the Johnson Tiles group. According to the BCAWU, management never consults with its militants, members are pressured to resign from the union and workers' committees have been formed.

Five hundred strikers dismissed: At Nelspruit, nearly 500 workers were dismissed by the Mbombela Stadium Joint Venture consisting of France's Bouygues Group and the South African construction company Basil Read. Workers had been on strike since February for better pay. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) succeeded in reaching agreement with the consortium management. The dismissed workers were reinstated and returned to work on 10 July.

Refusal to recognise trade union: On 17 September, workers at the Woolworths trading chain went on strike in protest against the company's refusal to recognise the representative nature of the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU). In recent years, Woolworths had considerably unsettled its workforce with atypical types of employment. The strike and boycott of products ended on 24 October after the signing of an agreement under which the company undertook to accept a counting of members by a public commission.

Obstruction of organising on farms: In the agricultural sector, employers are frequently hostile towards trade unions. Where trade unionists try to recruit new members, for instance, some employers ban them access to the farms on the pretext that they are private property. During labour disputes the employers are generally supported by the police.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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