Labour Amendment Bill: Designated Agents of Employment Councils

Designated agents (DAs) of Employment Councils play a key role in the resolution of disputes and unfair labour practices in the industries they belong. The Labour Act in its current form excludes Labour Officers from dealing with disputes that are within the authority of Designated Agents. The proposed bill shows a legislature that intends on further controlling DAs in the exercise of the section 63 powers. It also seeks to expand the authority of Labour Officers.

The proposed section 63 (3b) now provides for concurrent authority between Labour Officers and Designated Agents.[1] Where Labour Officers were previously precluded from entertaining disputes within the DAs authority, they can now deal with these provided this is done after the expiry of 30 days after the dispute arose and the matter has not been referred to a DA. The proposed provision reads:

“(3b) Subject to subsections (3c) and (3d) where a designated agent is authorised to redress any dispute or unfair labour practice in terms of subsection (3a), no labour officer shall have jurisdiction in the matter during the first thirty days after the date when the dispute or unfair labour practice arose, but a labour officer may assume such jurisdiction (and exercise in relation to that dispute or unfair labour practice the same powers that a designated agent has in terms of this section) after the expiry of that period if proceedings before a designated agent to determine that dispute or unfair labour practice have not earlier commenced.”[2]

Further, the proposed legislation empowers the Registrar to withdraw the appointment of a DA after an interested party or a labour officer has complained of the conduct of the DA. The grounds of such a withdrawal are crafted as “failure on the part of the designated agent to exercise his or her mandate effectively or to comply with the provisions of this Act”. The provisions also prescribe that if the complaint is because the DA is slow in acting, the Registrar may direct that the matter be heard by another Designated Agent or may refer it to a Labour Officer.[3]

We view these provisions as a serious attempt by the legislature to positively control the quality of dispute resolution outcomes as well as speedy resolution of labour disputes. The legislature should, perhaps, define terms such as failure to “exercise his or her mandate” and “unduly dilatory” to reduce interpretation problems at the point of implementing the respective provisions. The same provisions should also apply to labour officers and arbitrators in as far as they provide for a sanction for failure to adequately exercise a mandate as well as being unduly dilatory.

[1]              Proposed Section 63 (3b)

[2]              Proposed Section 63 (3b)

[3]              Proposed Section 63 (3c)


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