Trade Union Organisational Rights In The Workplace
Trade unions are unified organisations of employees in a workplace or employment field brought together for the purpose of protecting employee rights and negotiating employment conditions. With unions come their organisational rights, which are rights that a registered trade union may exercise in a workplace to enable the union to organise and represent member employees in their workplaces.
The Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA) gives five organisational rights that may be granted or agreed upon under different circumstances, being:
Access to the workplace
Deduction of trade union subscriptions or levies
Trade union representatives
Leave for trade union activities
Disclosure of information
However, before a union may exercise these rights, specific criteria must be met to avoid uncertainty and unlawful interference in the workplace.
Firstly, a trade union must be registered with the Department of Employment and Labour and notify the employer as to which rights it intends on exercising. Secondly, the union must have adequate representativeness in the workplace, being either majority representation (at least 51% of employees) or sufficient representation. The LRA does not define “sufficient representation”, but it essentially means that a union must have an adequate presence in the workplace to warrant granting them organisational rights, which will depend on the circumstances.
Regarding representativeness, the threshold to obtain organisational rights depends on the type of right the union wishes to exercise. Majority representation is needed for the more onerous rights of disclosure of information and to elect trade union representatives. In contrast, sufficient representation is required to exercise the less burdensome rights to access, stop-order facilities, and leave for trade union activities.
Therefore, unions and employers must consult with one another and reach an agreement as to what rights will be exercised and how this will be done. This will ensure a balance between the employer’s business operations on the one hand and the functioning of the union for the interests of its members on the other.