Minister of Labour speech at the Annual Labour Policy Conference


Speech by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Nelisiwe Oliphant at the Annual Labour Policy Conference

Theme:  The Department Of Labour’s 5 Year Strategic Plan And Policy Issues In 2011

Roodevallei Conference & Meetings Hotel

Programme Director

Leaders of Organised Labour

Colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be invited to address you on the occasion of the Annual Labour Policy Conference and to have the opportunity to interact with organised labour so early in the New Year.  It is going to be a challenging year for social dialogue and for all the social partners. 

 

I have been asked to address the Department of Labour’s 5 year Strategic Plan and policy issues facing us in 2011.  I would have liked to bring you copies of the Department’s Strategic Plan, but it is in the process of being finalised as we need to table it in Parliament in due course.  So, let me speak to;

•           the strategic priorities that we have identified that will frame the Department’s strategic plan;

•           how these strategic priorities link to policy issues for 2011, and;

•           the challenges that face social dialogue in the year ahead.

The Department has the adopted eight strategic objectives to guide our plans and our activities over the next five years.  These are: 

i.          Contribute to employment creation;

ii.          Promote equity in the labour market;

iii.         Protecting vulnerable workers;

iv.         Strengthening multilateral and bilateral relations;

v.         Strengthening social protection;

vi.         Promoting sound labour relations;

vii.        Strengthening the capacity of labour market institutions;

viii.       Strengthening the institutional capacity of the department.

 Some of these objectives are carried forward from our previous strategic plan and are likely to remain a key strategic focus for the Department for some years to come.  Given the nature of the labour market in South Africa, protecting vulnerable workers will have to remain a key focus – we will just have to get better at ensuring proper protection. 

The same applies to social protection.  The benefits administered by the department can be improved in many ways, but they also need to be integrated with the longer term social security reforms of government.  This process is likely to go beyond our current strategic plan.

 

The Department will, in the 2011/12 financial year focus on the following strategic areas:

 o          Reviewing and submitting to Parliament amendments to labour legislation – the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Employment Equity Act, Labour Relations Act and a new Employment Services Bill.  Our aim is to create a policy framework to promote decent work, and a policy framework for the provision of public employment services which will enable government to maintain a database of job seekers and job opportunities, as well as matching and placement of job seekers. The Department will during the 2011/12 financial year consult with stakeholders and on conclusion, present the bills to Parliament.

 o          Reduce inequality and discrimination in the labour market through effective compliance monitoring and enforcement of the Employment Equity Act

o          The Labour inspectorate system will be strengthened to monitor and enforce compliance with legislation to ensure decent work principles are adhered to and address vulnerability in the labour market.

 o          A new OHS Bill will be drafted to strengthen enforcement and improve compliance to health and safety.

 o          A UIF Bill will be processed to improve benefits and extend the period.

 o          Improved access to income protection services (CF & UIF) including reintegration of workers into the labour market

 

These areas of activity will be our priority.  They link directly to some key policy issues that face us during this year. 

 

The first policy challenge is the review of labour legislation that started at NEDLAC a few days ago at the meeting of the task team on 20th January 2011.

 

The bills that were published on 17 December 2010 are not new to the social partners.  The exception is the Employment Services Bill.  The  other bills amending the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act were all the subject of discussion in a NEDLAC process during 2009 and early 2010.  There are a few important changes, such as the proposed deletion of section 198 and the definitions of employer and employee, but the rest should come as no surprise. 

 

What has changed since the NEDLAC discussions in 2009 is the labour market context.  Due to the economic recession we lost a further 1 million jobs, bringing the numbers of unemployed in South Africa to roughly 4.4 million in September 2010.  Job creation is now an overriding priority for government and hopefully for our social partners as well. 

 

The key test of our policies will have to be their ability to contribute to job creation.  To put it another way, we have to ensure that our policies do not have negative consequences for employment. 

 

Some may want to argue that our priority should be decent work – that we should not focus on jobs only at the expense of security of employment in acceptable conditions of employment. 

 

Let us not get into an either/or debate.  We want both jobs and we must strive for decent work.  The ILO defines decent work as being: 

“productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.” 

 

We need to start with productive work.  We need the jobs and employment opportunities in which people can be occupied and begin to measure conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

 

It is therefore important that we engage in social dialogue on the amendments in an effective and focussed way.  I am sure that we would all want the amendments to be passed into law as soon as possible so that the legal reforms can begin to change labour relations and the operation of the labour market for the better.

 

A second policy area that faces us is that of strengthening enforcement of existing labour legislation. 

 

Through the proposed amendments, we are proposing a number of changes to strengthen the powers of the inspectorate of the Department of Labour.  We are criminalising non-compliance with provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and we are increasing penalties for non-compliance with both the BCEA and the Employment Equity Act.  The Labour Relations Act is also being amended to strengthen the enforcement of arbitration awards issued by the CCMA and Bargaining and Statutory Councils. 

 

This move to strengthen enforcement represents an important policy shift and should not be viewed only as an operational matter.  Why do we have to do this?

 

Again the context is important.  During periods of economic crisis, employers will be under financial pressure and will look at ways of cutting labour costs.  One can therefore expect an increase in non-compliance during such times.  But non-compliance has been a problem in our labour market for quite some time.  It goes back further than the economic recession that we experienced in 2009.

 

The factors that contribute to non-compliance with labour legislation could include the following:

 •           Economic pressures on business;

•           Lack of capacity and willingness to implement the law;

•           Lack of capacity to enforce the law in an appropriate way by government;

•           Weaknesses in co-regulation, that is where enforcement comes about through strong labour relations between workers and managers;

•           Weaknesses of trade unionism and collective bargaining.

 

We need to begin a careful examination of why it is that non-compliance has become such a problem.  And we need to ensure that we strengthen capacity by the social partners to improve self-regulation in the workplace.  Changing the law will not be a silver bullet to dealing with the problem of non-compliance.

 

Government faces a very big challenge in strengthening our capacity to regulate, but we are unlikely to be able to do this alone.  We need strong trade unions with strong shop floor structures and representation and we need stronger collective bargaining, especially in the private sector.

 

There are going to be very substantial challenges facing the social partners during 2011.  I have highlighted only two of the policy issues that are critical for the Department.  There are a number of others – the social security reform initiative, including changes to the Compensation Fund and Unemployment Insurance Fund, to mention just one example.

 

These challenges will put pressure on social dialogue and we will have to ensure that we give adequate support to social dialogue and coordinate our efforts so that we achieve our aims.  This is where NEDLAC and organised labour have a critical role to play.

 

President Jacob Zuma in his June 2009 State of the Nation Address stated that the “creation of decent work will be at the centre of our economic policies”.  Developing a policy package that facilitates employment creation requires tough dialogue. 

 

Decent employment creation can only be successful when all stakeholders constantly keep in mind during the social dialogue process the context of the South African and global economies, social realities such as poverty, inequalities and education levels, and the long term goals for South Africa which must be weighed against short term costs.  The local economy is showing signs of recovery but remains fragile.   Unemployment remains unacceptably high and the division between rich and poor is not reducing.  We need to work together to find ways of addressing this crisis and the systemic inequalities that characterise our society and labour market. 

 

Successful and effective social dialogue is the only solution – but more than ever, we all need to move away from an attitude of winning regardless of the collateral cost, to an attitude of joint consensus seeking in the interest of all.

 

Let me conclude by stressing again that we as social partners need a concerted and committed effort through social dialogue to find sustainable, realistic, affordable and innovative solutions to the challenges that we face.  Our attitude needs to be one of cooperation, not competition.  Together we can do more.

I thank you.

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