By Natashia Barnabas, Industrial Relations Manager at Workforce Staffing
In any workplace, the relationship between management and the workforce can become tense or strained, for any number of reasons. Often, these tensions can escalate into industrial action, which can be severely disruptive to business. Industrial Relations (IR), a key component of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), is crucial when dealing with employer/employee conflict, but it can be a complex process. An experienced Temporary Employment Services (TES) provider employs industry and labour experts to ensure that they source the best management and executive resources across all aspects of business. A TES partner can be immensely valuable in mitigating various issues across the business, not only by handling IR matters, but also by supplying a flexible workforce to help organisations minimise disruption to business. A reputable TES provider can partner with an organisation to mitigate the risk of industrial action, easing tension and reducing friction.
The role of IR
IR is essential in creating a culture of compliance in the workplace. It does this by encouraging employees to abide by company policies and procedures (which are based on latest Labour and Employment legislation), aligning clients’ policies and thinking accordingly and disciplining employees who contravene the workplace policies and procedures.
IR also assists with all things labour and employment related in the workplace, from disciplinary action, policy formulation and collective bargaining, to attendance and resolution of cases at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and Bargaining Council (BC) to name a few. IR will ensure that policies and procedures are implemented and followed, through a number of methods. IR also provides detailed training and assistance to line management in respect of the company policies and procedures, as well as labour legislation.
Dealing with challenges effectively
Often, organisations may find it challenging to communicate with employees and address unhappiness before it becomes a more widespread issue. In addition, addressing scenarios where discipline is required or there is a situation of poor work performance (PWP) can be challenging (in that the businesses are not equipped to do this), or difficult for management, who do not want to create further tension. Retrenchments can also be negative and difficult scenarios to navigate, as can strike situations, CCMA and bargaining council disputes.
A TES provider can help, assisting with effective communication with employees, diffusing complicated situations, and assisting to resolve any issues between the client and the employees in the above situations. The IR team steps in here and takes full control of the above, under the mandate of the client.
Following due diligence
There is a misconception that a TES provider can act as the ‘fall guy’ in situations where organisations face employee relations challenges. This is not the case, and an experienced TES partner will be sure to make this distinction clear from inception by way of making provision for specific terms and conditions surrounding legal processes, that need to be followed for the duration of the contract, in the Service Level Agreement (SLA). In addition, it is important to note that a TES partner will not circumvent labour legislation in order to meet a client’s request. The TES provider must be allowed to follow processes and procedures before it can assume any liability and any final actions can be taken. This is also in favour of the client, as the client will be benefiting from the TES provider’s IR team ensuring that all processes are carried in compliance with relevant legislation at all time, in terms of any liability that it too can incur as a “deemed” employer.
What is industrial action?
There are various different types of industrial action, including strikes, pickets, and go-slows. It is also important to note that a strike can be either ‘protected’ or ‘unprotected’.
A protected strike complies with the provisions of Chapter IV, Section 64 of the Labour Relations Act No. 66 of 1995 (“LRA”). The employees and/or their union representatives follow the steps as required in terms of the LRA with regards to commencing processes at the CCMA due to a legitimate subject interest, advanced notifications of the intended strike and so on. An unprotected strike occurs when employees and/or their union representatives do not follow the process and procedures as per the LRA and break out into violent acts on the premises, breaching the agreed upon picketing rules. This could result in substantial interference in operations causing a tremendous loss of profit, loss of life or limb (any persons on or around the premises), damage to company, client and neighbouring property etc.
Mitigating the risk
These inflammatory scenarios require careful and sensitive handling to mitigate risk and disruption. Communication is key. A reputable TES provider will have a strike contingency plan outlining strategy to be followed in such a situation. Line management such as site supervisors and/or team leaders are trained in terms of the plan and in terms of IR processes. They will act with the assistance of IR enabling a quick and efficient response to the situation and aim for an amicable resolution where possible.
IR will monitor and support the client and line management throughout this process. It is very important to get IR involved as soon as any type of action is noticed in the workplace so that it can be addressed as soon as possible. A reputable and experienced TES provider has the knowledge and skills to help businesses successfully navigate tensions, minimising downtime and mitigating risk.