The most recent round of amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) have implications for the granting of organisational rights to trade unions. National Union of Mineworkers and others / Western Platinum (Pty) Ltd and others – (2019) 28 CCMA also reported at [2019] discusses.

Three unions (NUM, Solidarity and UASA), acting in coalition, sought organisational rights, conferred by sections 12,13 and 15 of the LRA, in the workplace.

Granting of organisational rights is governed by section 21(8c) of the LRA.

The employers and the majority union, AMCU, contended that the unions were not entitled to those rights because they had concluded an agreement, in terms of section 18, with the employer and the unions did not meet the threshold set for acquisition in the organisation concerned.

Membership numbers of NUM, Solidarity and UASA were, respectively, 1 067, 736 and 417. The total workforce was 22 689, of which 18 969 were AMCU members.

The Commissioner noted further that section 18 makes it legally possible for majority unions and employers to conclude agreements which set the threshold for the acquisition of organisational rights provided for in sections 12, 13 and 15. Section 21(8C) allows unions to be granted those organisational rights even if their members fall short of the threshold. This is provided that they represent a significant number of employees.

Section 21(8C) is a departure from the method by which representatively is established by numbers alone. The issue is whether unions should be able to represent significant, important and meritorious interests of members and defend their occupational interests. The Commissioner held that a ‘substantial number’ means a number that is not insignificant.

The unions had all been previously involved in the workplace and had a history of organising in the mining sector. NUM was previously the majority union. Although the bargaining unit had since been expanded, granting the unions the organisational rights they sought would not redefine the new bargaining unit.

The Commissioner, accordingly, held that the applicant unions represented a significant number of workers but declined to rule on whether they represented a significant interest.

The unions were accordingly granted the right of access to the workplace, assistance with collection of members’ fees and leave for activities. The employer was directed to make further submissions on how those rights should be exercised.

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