Thank you, Chairperson.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Last time we were here we all had a very frustrating two days, with little or no progress made in the negotiations. Indeed, towards the end of the first day frustration on all sides had grown considerably, to the extent that some among our labour partners accused us of negotiating in bad faith, but could not themselves resist the temptation to threaten us with “war” in the event of a dispute.
As I did on that last occasion, yet again I would like to reconfirm our full and unwavering commitment to the collective bargaining process in general and the current negotiations in particular. I said then that we remain determined to participate in these negotiations as cooperatively as we possibly can, and expressed the hope that the same applies to all other parties to this process.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, remains very much the case today.
We have absolutely no desire to filibuster and drag these negotiations on endlessly. We have nothing to gain by engaging in so puerile an activity. On the contrary, we would like to conclude these negotiations as expeditiously and as constructively as it is possible for us to do so.
I pointed out last time, on behalf of all the Employer Parties, that we felt very strongly about the threat posed to the collective bargaining process by the recent Labour Court judgements on Section 37 of the Main Agreement. We said then that we viewed the Van Niekerk judgements as a major threat to the very future of the collective bargaining process, and we argued that, in our view, that was a threat that should concern equally all of those who believe in and support collective bargaining.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that remains very much the situation as we sit here today. We remain firmly of the view that, without a resolution to this challenge, the time and effort that we are investing in this collective bargaining process will amount to naught if, after an agreement has been reached here, the threat of shop-floor negotiations on the same matters discussed here, which have an impact on the cost of employment, continue to hang like a Sword of Damocles over employers. I reiterate this morning, on behalf of all the Employer Parties, that we are unwilling to live with that kind of threat.
Our position this morning, therefore, remains that our continued participation in this process is entirely subject to a resolution to the Section 37 conundrum currently facing us. Once again, we will NOT sign any agreement reached in these negotiations unless one of the two options that we have proposed as a remedy to the Van Niekerk judgements has been accepted. This remains our firm mandate from the employers whom we represent.
The second issue that we raised that day was the need for all parties to these negotiations to commit, through the conclusion of a Peace Accord, to conducting themselves responsibly, with due deference to the laws of this country and respect for one another’s democratic rights, in the event that we should find ourselves in a strike situation. That, too, remains a very important demand by employers.
We stress, yet again, that we require the conclusion of a Peace Accord not because we anticipate industrial action, but because we believe that it is vital that all of us involved in this process should commit ourselves fully to conducting ourselves in an acceptable manner at all times, including in the event of industrial action. We contend that it is important that we commit to conducting ourselves responsibly at all times, in keeping with the country’s laws, without resorting to violence or any illegal acts, and to respecting equally the inalienable rights of those employees who may choose freely to participate in any strike, as well as the equally-important rights of those employees who may choose not to participate in a strike.
I stated then, Chairperson and Ladies and Gentlemen, that this was not a position from which we were able or willing to depart. Instead, it was a firm condition for our continued participation in these negotiations.
However, we have taken note of the sentiments expressed by our labour partners on this matter, particularly the unfair accusation that we were negotiating in bad faith. While we rejected that unfounded accusation then and still do now, nevertheless we no longer insist on the conclusion of a Peace Accord as a condition for our continued participation in these negotiations.
That does not mean that our demand for the conclusion of a Peace Accord has fallen away. It remains one of the important demands placed on the table by the Associations federated to SEIFSA, and we would like it to be dealt with together with all our other demands. The only difference is that it is no longer a pre-condition for our continued participation in these negotiations. It is our fervent hope that this important concession will help the process to move along, while keeping in mind that this remains one of our very firm demands.
In conclusion, Chairperson and Ladies and Gentlemen, I appeal, yet again, that we all take very seriously these two issues that I have raised and ensure:
- that we do have a Peace Accord concluded in the course of these negotiations,
- and that we prioritize a resolution to the threat posed by the Van Niekerk judgement to the whole collective bargaining process, without which the Employer Parties will NOT sign any agreement.
Thank you, Chairperson, for indulging me.