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Organisational rights of trade unions

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

  • Many employers are unaware that in terms of the Labour Relations Act, 1955 (Act 66 of 1995), trade unions are entitled to acquire specific rights within the workplace if they are sufficiently represented.
  • Any official or office bearer of such a trade union is allowed to enter the employer’s premises in order to recruit new members, serve their members’ interests and hold meetings, or to conduct any ballot in terms of their constitution.
  • Employers can deduct the trade union’s levies from their members’ remuneration and pay the monies to the trade union. This right is subject to the employee’s authorisation, which may be revoked by giving the necessary notice.
  • The members of a registered trade union, or two or more unions acting jointly, which represent the majority of employees in the workplace, is entitled to elect a trade union representative (shop steward). 
  • The trade union may require the employer to disclose all relevant information in order to allow the trade union to effectively perform its functions, or when engaging in collective bargaining.

Many employers are unaware that in terms of the Labour Relations Act, 1955 (Act 66 of 1995), trade unions are entitled to acquire specific rights within the workplace if they are sufficiently represented. It is thus imperative for employers to take note of the following rights:

Trade union access to workplace

Any official or office bearer of such a trade union is allowed to enter the employer’s premises in order to recruit new members, serve their members’ interests and hold meetings, or to conduct any ballot in terms of their constitution. It is important to note that trade unions are limited to meeting with their members outside normal working hours unless agreed otherwise.

Employers should take care to conclude a collective agreement with the relevant trade union to give timeous notice of their intention to exercise this right (i.e. 48 hours’ notice before conducting a ballot).

Read more about jailed employees and absenteeism here.

Deduction of subscriptions/levies

This right confers that employers deduct the trade union’s levies from their members’ remuneration and pay the monies to the trade union. This right is subject to the employee’s authorisation, which may be revoked by giving the necessary notice.

When remitting these monies to the trade union, the employer must provide the trade union with:

  • A list of the names of every member from whose wages the employer has made the deductions included in the remittance.
  • Details of the amounts deducted and remitted, and the period to which the deductions relate.
  • A copy of every notice of revocation, if applicable.

Trade union representatives

The members of a registered trade union, or two or more unions acting jointly, which represent the majority of employees in the workplace, is entitled to elect a trade union representative (shop steward). 

The representative will be responsible for representing employees in disciplinary and grievance proceedings, as well as monitoring the employer in respect of compliance with labour law and any collective agreement. The representative can also take time off to fulfil his or her duties, and to be trained in his or her functions.

Leave for trade union activities

Any employee who is an office-bearer of a representative trade union may take reasonable leave to complete or fulfil the obligations of his or her office. The employer and trade union may agree to the number of leave days, how many leave days will be paid, and any conditions attached to it.

Disclosure of information

By acquiring this right, the trade union may require the employer to disclose all relevant information in order to allow the trade union to effectively perform its functions, or when engaging in collective bargaining. It is important to note that there are restrictions on the information that may be disclosed (i.e. information that is legally privileged or that would amount to the contravention of any law or court order if disclosed). 

Seeking recognition of rights

These listed rights are not automatically granted. Instead, trade unions can seek recognition of these rights from the employer, failing which could result in a referral to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), or even strike action.

It is important to note that trade unions with adequate representation (approximately 25% of employees in the workplace) are only permitted access to the workplace and deductions of union fees, while majority trade unions (50% + 1) can obtain all the aforementioned rights.

Employers are encouraged to seek further legal advice if approached by a trade union aiming to exercise these rights. This is essential to ensure adherence to statutory procedures and to mitigate any potential disruptions or risks in the workplace. – Xander Levendal, legal advisor, LWO Employers Organisation

The LWO Employers Organisation assists employers to comply with labour law, and to use it to their advantage to protect their business. As a registered employers’ organisation with the Department of Employment and Labour, the LWO has the right to represent members at the CCMA. For more information, send an email to Xander Levendal at xander@lwo.co.za or info@lwo.co.za, or visit www.lwo.co.za.


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South African labour legislation is extensive and non-negotiable. Many employers do business honestly believing they comply with labour law, when in fact they do not. Non-compliance can have a serious financial impact, putting your farming enterprise at unnecessary risk. The Department of Employment and Labour has the authority to enforce labour law and to conduct regular inspections of the workplace to ensure compliance.

There are three types of labour inspections, each focussing on compliance with a different set of legislation.


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