BY  lvan lsraelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011) 888-7944 or 0828522973 or via e-mail address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Go to
A trade union will be successful in gaining recognition at your workplace if it can prove to you or to the CCMA that it has sufficient representation amongst your employees. The question is, what constitutes sufficient representation.
Part A of Chapter Three of the Labour Relations Act LRA splits “trade union representivity” into two categories:
1.    Full representivity based on a simple majority of members employed at a workplace; and
2.    Partial representivity based on the new concept of “sufficient” representation.
Where a trade union, or more than one union acting jointly, can prove that its/their members at the workplace represent a majority of all the employees employed at the workplace the union(s) will be legally entitled to recognition. That is, it/they will be entitled to organisational rights provided for by the LRA. These rights are:
·         Access to the workplace by a union official to meet with its members and to conduct elections
·         Deduction and pay over of union subscriptions
·         Election of trade union representatives (i.e. shop stewards)
·         Leave for trade union activities
·         Disclosure of information.
Where a union does not have a majority but does become merely “sufficiently” representative it ...

only has the right to access to the workplace, deduction of union subscriptions and leave for union activities. The idea behind this concept appears to be to allow a union which does not have a majority, but which may have significant representation, to get a foothold into the workplace for purposes of trying to increase its representivity.
The concept of a “sufficiently representative trade union” is not defined by the LRA which leaves it to the arbitrators at the CCMA to decide whether the union is sufficiently representative or not.
Instead, the LRA gives the CCMA arbitrators some broad guidelines which are so broad that they are not very helpful. The LRA requires that:
1.    ln order to qualify for sufficient representation the union must be registered with the Department of Labour.
2.    Arbitrators who are attempting to establish whether a union qualifies as sufficiently representative must, in terms of the LRA, consider:
·         The need to avoid excessive numbers of trade unions in a workplace.
·         The need to minimise the financial and administrative burden on the employer.
·         The nature of the workplace.
·         The nature of the rights sought.
·         The nature of the sector (industry) into which the workplace falls.
·         The organisational history of the workplace or any other workplace of the employer.
Where a union approaches an employer for organisational rights the union and the employer’s HR/IR management are required to meet in order to try to conclude a collective agreement. Where such meeting(s) fails to result in an agreement the union is required, if it wishes to take the matter further, to refer the dispute to the CCMA for purposes of conciliation ( the LRA also allows the employer to refer the matter to the CCMA). That is, in the first instance, the CCMA must be given a chance to assist the employer and union to reach an agreement on the disputed issue of the granting of organisational rights. Should the conciliator succeed in resolving the issue then that is the end of the dispute.
lt is where conciliation fails to resolve the dispute that the matter becomes complicated. This is because the LRA (via two of its sections which fall into two totally different chapters) allows the union two totally opposite choices as how to proceed further with the dispute:
1.    Firstly, section 21 (7) allows either party to refer the matter to the CCMA for arbitration where the commissioner is required, for example, to apply the guidelines listed above for determining sufficient representivity.
2.    Secondly, instead of referring the matter to arbitration, the union is entitled to go on strike after following the prescribed procedures.
It is therefore crucial for HR/IR practitioners to be able to assess at the outset whether the trade union concerned is sufficiently representative or not. This is because, if the answer is “yes” there is no point in refusing recognition. On the other hand, if recognition is not warranted you need to know that it is safe to refuse it.
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