Should Union Shop Stewards be qualified?


This topic contains 34 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Skills Universe 2 years ago.

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  • #5837

    Des Squire
    Participant

    Recently while conducting training related to Employment Equity I was shocked, amazed and totally taken aback by the lack of knowledeg of some of the shop stewards and other union representatives involved. The very basic lack of essential information related to the topic which I felt the union representatives should hold was sadly lacking.

    The attitudes as to why white women should be included in terms of equity quotas and the need to ensure advancement of women, including white women, in the workplace left me shocked and stunned.

    Another area of concern that emerged was the belief and insistence by the shop stewards that they should be permitted to sit in on all interviews, so as to ensure fairnes and that an equity candidate was appointed, amazed me. The demanding, beligerant and disrespectful attitude of these union reps, during the course of the training, left me feeling annoyed and at the same time sorry that these people were so uneducated in terms of the very policies, procedures, Acts and Laws within which they were supposed to be operating and representing their members. 

    Their arrogance, inability or unwillingness to accept responses to questions asked. was to say the least discusting. 

    My question therefore is 

    Should it be required that all union representative be up to date on” Understanding the basics of labour legislation” including the EE Act and the Skills Development Acts before being appointed as such or being permtted to go forward as candidates for election? 

    Should employers be entitled to insist on proof of basic qualification prior to acceptance of the person as the recognised union representative?

    It is time the unions made sure their represnetatives and members were made aware of the Law and labour legislation

                

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  • #5867

    Ashwell Glasson
    Participant

    Dear Des, a very valid point, but the legislation takes a voluntary approach to how the membership of various EE committees are constituted and populated by the organisation. I have worked with a few unions that do train and develop their shop stewards and leadership with regards the applied principles of the EE and related pieces of legislation. I think it is also sector specific as well as driven by that organisations history with its organised labour, some unions are clearly streets ahead of others in terms of the quality of their engagement and pro-activity  Like so many things, we have to be careful of painting all unions or labour representation bodies with the same. Which I know you are not saying, but many colleagues and peers of mine tend to do it, to their detriment. I have worked with some amazing individuals, although I do agree with you on the general quality of shop steward education, allot more should and could be done to help them operate more effectively across the board, not just in the formal EE-type processes, but even in workplace conflict mitigation, worker productivity and worker mobilisation. Then there are certain union representatives who manage the agenda according to their own thinking, much of which is based on accumulating power and influence. One of the easiest ways of doing this, is to keep their fellow workers and members ignorant of the basics of the law, whilst acting as the conduit and influencers to achieve other goals and objectives. This last point  for me is central to some of what has driven Marikana and the other recent incidences. Simply put some of the workers started realising that some of the Shop Stewards were representing more selfish interests and holding back on other items, thus were then seen as abusing their roles. I am pretty sure that is why the National Union of Mineworkers lost so much ground to AMCU in the various mines. It has not only been about the traditional conflict between the employer and labour, but actually the legitimacy of the labour representatives itself. 

    On the  point regarding white woman and their status, the B-BBEEE Act set the tone for the challenge of the white woman status, by not recognizing them for employment equity purposes as far as the BEE verification process goes. The two closely aligned pieces of legislation have that conflict point, especially for organisations trying to attain a higher BEE rating. For smaller organisations not necessarily working within the BEE remit, they can operate under the provisions of the EE Act, although I think the B-BBEEE Act will ultimately supersede it in practice if not in legal standing by market and procurement demands.

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  • #5866

    Des Squire
    Participant

    Hi Ashwell

    Thank you for those insights. When I consider your views on the meyhem at Marikana and some of the possible causes I am inclined to think this is another reason for the need for qualified shop stewards (I mean with a recognised skills programme or series of specified unit standards).

    The education and training of these leaders, who play such a vital role in workplace negotitations and so on, is of paramount importance going into the future, if unions are to maintan their credibility and standing.

    Now is the time for those who do not do so already, to ensure their people know the law, labour legislation have negotiation skills and understand who they represent – not their own self interests.       

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  • #5865

    sylvia hammond
    Keymaster

    Nice topic Des but I’m going to throw the cat among the pigeons if I may.  I’ve worked with unions since the 80’s and I am very sympathetic to the problems they face. 

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that they should be trained. I’d suggest training in: all labour legislation, bargaining council agreements if relevant, meeting management, minute-taking, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, HIV-Aids and general very basic counselling skills, financial management, presentation skills, and an introduction to law and legal principles – I’d push it to include administrative justice and access to information and consumer protection. 

    You and I could put together an appropriate proposal to run such a programme – aligned to unit standards – and we’d probably even be able to get funding from a SETA project or the NSF.

    However, what do you think would happen when we ask for time off for training the shop stewards?  I’ll wager you a bottle of good scotch that we’d get a response from the company advising us about how many days training have been agreed in the union recognition agreement – probably 5 days per year.  Now what good is that to anyone?  Certainly not to a large company with a number of shop stewards.

    So my take on this is: ask them whether they’ve asked for training, and whether it has been approved.  Ask them how many days are agreed in their collective agreement – per shop steward – as they usually have to pool it.  

    In my – radical but based on many years of experience – view, companies get the shop stewards they deserve.   Look forward to your response.

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  • #5864

    Pieter Staal
    Participant

    Nice one Des.  Sylvia, I tend to agree, the company gets the shop steward it deserves.  At one of the companies I worked for our CEO made it a point that I draw up training schedules with much of the same topics mentioned by Sylvia to ensure the shop stewards were equally matched to management on most issues.  We got the union’s buy-in on this and it was a success.  Also it never took away from the union’s training days as it was regarded as management’s prerogative to train its staff – basically a win-win which led to quality discussions, negotiations etc.  There were one or two employees who thought these guys had sold out as they wanted action as in the old days – but the shop stewards quickly showed them the error of their ways.  So Des and Sylvia, when is this training course going to do its rounds?? Go for it, the workplace definitely needs it.

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  • #5863

    It is such a complicated situation and everyone’s views expressed so far have great weight. Just to add…………..when we have experienced resistance to training from the employee body, it is often owing to shop stewards, and the individual’s current competence/lack of proof thereof. Understandable to an extent but sad!

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  • #5862

    sylvia hammond
    Keymaster

    Hi Pieter, so great to hear the positive CEO stories – and yes it is so important that the training is not seen as a “co-opting” of the shop stewards – they still have their role.

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  • #5861

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #6067

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #19476

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #36758

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #43154

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #44195

    Skills Universe
    Keymaster

    Hi,

    I fully agree with the above view shared by Des, some union officials are totally ignoranant, and unwilling to learn about the policies, procedures and acts relating to labour law, Sadly this is not only in this sector it is across the whole of South africa, they are ever ready to lay accusations, without any facts at hand and forget about about the situation.the worker that is the most arrogant, and undeducated it the one that is elected to be a shop steward, however their is trained shop stewards and when they present the facts to workers they  either Labelled as sell outs or mangement offer them positions with HR, and we back to square one.I believe that employers should play a greater role in the selections of union shop stewards, and set certain criteria to be elected as shop stewards, cause if you have a shop steward with high morals, values. work ethics, and understand business operations and the economy, these values he or she will filter down to the workforce.

     

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  • #5860

    Hi Des, 

    I don’t really know the context of what you describe above, but I think that within the political context of South Africa and the debates around EE, it may be helpful to create dialogue around race and social inequality, in order to try and help the groups tow work harmoniously together.  Embrace carry out work like this.  I think that sometimes there is resistance to white women with regards to EE because of the belief that such women may be given preference.  There’s also the belief sometimes that shop stewards should sit in on meetings in order to ensure a greater degree of representation, and a fear that this wouldn’t happen otherwise.  When different groups of people within a company are polarised, with the interests of ‘them’ being seen as a threat to ‘us’, whoever us and them may be, it can create resistance.  

    I do think that it is helpful for people who are standing up for the rights of any particular group to have training, particularly because it ensures the ability to make some insightful decisions.  I also think that when there are a great many tensions around EE, representation or inequality, it is helpful to open up dialogue there too.

    This is an interesting topic,

    Nicci

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