Organising and bargaining across sectors in South Africa: Recent developments and potential problems

Authors Emma Fergus, Shane Godfrey

ISSN: 2413-9874
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer, Commercial Law Department, University of Cape Town; Institute of Development and Labour Law, University of Cape Town; Co-ordinator: Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group, University of Cape Town
Source: Industrial Law Journal, Volume 37 Issue 4, 2016, p. 2211 – 2236


The restructuring of production and rise of services pose significant challenges to trade unions with regard to organisation and collective bargaining in South Africa and globally. In response, NUMSA has resolved to organise all workers at firms, including core and non-core, and all workers along value chains. In effect this means organising and bargaining across sectors, which is contrary to the sectoral orientation embedded in the country’s labour legislation and the strategies of most trade unions. This article examines the legal and practical obstacles at sector and enterprise level that face NUMSA and any unions that might follow its lead. It concludes that while NUMSA’s strategy might be an appropriate response to the changes in the world of work, the statutory framework for organising and bargaining and the existing structures and practices that regulate organising and bargaining on the ground create a number of hurdles for the union and could cause tensions in the existing collective bargaining system.