What is the Peace Obligation?

Charles K writes that as an Employer he is at the end of his rope with the Trade Union, which is active in his workplace. He asks whether there is anything in law compelling the Trade Union organisers and representatives to act ethically as “Human Beings” after agreements to work with each other have been signed?

Charles, there used to be a principle in the Labour environment know as the “Peace Obligation”. This meant that once an agreement has been signed after lengthy protracted and often very uncivilized engagement, both consenting parties had an obligation to keep the peace in-terms of the procedural mechanisms outlined in that agreement e.g. to exhaust internal mechanisms for dispute resolution and then to move up with the dispute either to a Bargaining Council or the CCMA or the Labour Court.

In this day and age with the current cohort of Unionists operating in South Africa the Peace Obligation appears to be something of the past. Those people electing to work for Trade Unions appear to have other plans which do not involve remaining as a Trade Union representative for very long but instead generally using their time at the Union as a stepping stone towards a life in politics or in business.  This requires two things. It firstly requires a healthy number of disputes are created by that organiser. The longer they are out of the office and in the middle of fights with employers, the more vicious antagonistic and violent those fights can be made to be, the more that kind of thing can take place at the workplace, preferably with press there, the better it is for the Trade Union Official and their personal aspirations. Indeed that official often gets paid more for being in the midst of those kinds of disputes than sitting in the office.

What determines the rate of progress of the Union official into politics or business, is the amount of antagonism which can be generated between the workforce and the employer often represented by management. When on Trade Union business at the workplace or in a dispute forum, the employer/management must be treated as “bad”. They must be seen as the enemy. Must be treated with disdain and animosity. At least this is the picture the workers must see because those workers pay the Trade Union officials salary and those unionists feel they must earn their salary in this way. Unfortunately that kind of behavior infects the workforce who interpret that kind of behavior as the accepted and expected way in which they should act towards the employer.

The reality is that if the Peace Obligation is broken irretrievably so that the working relationship becomes infected with animosity and antagonism then as the employer you can do something about it. Fire the workers who are being insubordinate because ultimately you are their employer. You pay their wages and make sure that their children eat. if you can prove it. Proof is about evidence. Let the CCMA or the Labour Court sort out context. If it is a Trade Union Official who is making your life unbearable write to the Trade Union giving them notice that if the Peace Obligation is not being upheld you will cancel the agreement and lock those Union Officials out of the workplace.

Ultimately this kind of culture is only created when the Trade Union have the assurance that you are too weak to react or that they have you over a barrel with your workforce. If that is the case introspect and examine why and how you allowed yourself to become the victim in this situation, and then take steps to change the power balance. To re-gain the upper hand. If not. If as an employer you do not want to be in charge, then suffer the consequences.