Privileges of joining registered trade unions and employer organization

By Simbarashe Gobvu

More often than not, employees are misdirected by bogus trade unionists who masquerade as legal representatives on labour disputes. Due to lack of knowledge desperate employees tend to seek representation from unregistered trade unionists who identify themselves as labour expects and latter dump them when matters drag to the courts. Without support of unions, employees are vulnerable to unfair labour practice by employers who tend to use their power to exploit them.

Section 2A of the labour Act provides that, the purpose of the Labour Act is to advance social justice and democracy in the workplace by giving effect to the fundamental rights of employees under Part II. Registered trade unions have privileges and locus stand to represent their constituency in courts. In terms of section 29(2), upon registration, a trade union becomes a body corporate and shall be capable of suing and being sued. It shall be able to purchase or otherwise acquiring, holding or alienating property, movable or immovable and of doing any other act or thing which its constitution requires or permits to do or which a body corporate may by law do. It is important to note that workers’ committees have no locus stand to represent employees and only registered trade unions are allowed to represent employees hence need for union membership.

Under part II of the Act, employees are entitled to membership of trade unions and workers committees. Section 4 provides that every employee shall, as between himself and his employer, have the following rights—

(a)     the right, if he so desires, to be a member or an officer of a trade union;

(b)     where he is a member or an officer of a trade, the right to engage in the lawful activities of such trade union for the advancement or protection of his interests;

(c)      the right to take part in the formation and registration of a trade union;

(d)     the same rights, mutatis mutandis, as are set out in paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) in relation to workers’ committees.

In terms of Statutory Instrument 217 Labor (Settlement of Disputes) Regulations, 2003, a party to a matter before a labour officer may be represented by a fellow employee, an official of a registered trade union, employers’ organization or a legal practitioner. It is clear that a trade unionist must be from a registered union and should produce a registration certificate for him or her to be allowed to represent an employee. The other benefit of membership is that registered trade unions are entitled to be assisted by a labour officer or designated agent of appropriate national employment council for the purpose electing its members and any other advice on labour issues. Trade unions also have right to access to employees as provided by Section 7(2) of the Act, which provides that every employer shall permit a labour officer or a representative of the appropriate trade union, if any, to have reasonable access to his employees at their place of work during working hours for the purpose of—

(a)     advising the employees on the law relating to their employment; and

(b)     advising and assisting the employees in regard to the formation or conducting of workers’ committees and trade unions; and

(c)      ensuring that the rights and interests of the employees are protected and advanced; and shall provide such labour officer or representative of the appropriate trade union, if any, with reasonable facilities and access for the exercise of such functions.

Registered trade unions shall also have the right to be provided by the employer names and other relevant particulars like wages and to make representation to a determining authority like labour officer, and other superior courts like labour court. It also have the right to levy, collect, sue for and recover union dues. In terms of Section 53(1) of the Act, no employer shall, without the consent of the Minister, pay on behalf of any employee any union dues other than to a registered trade union.

In terms of Section 31 of the Act registered trade unions shall have the right to act as agent unions for employees of unregistered trade unions and under such circumstances they are allowed to exercise any other right to privileges conferred by this Act on registered trade unions. The privileges that apply to trade unions also apply mutatis mutandis to registered employer organization with regard to representation and assistance by labour officers and designated agents of national employment councils. While the above privileges apply to registered trade unions, employees must be aware that unregistered trade unions can not represent them in courts and they can not recommend collective job action neither can they collect union dues by means of check off.

Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and must not be taken as legal advice. Simbarashe Gobvu is an experienced La­bour Practitioner and an Independent Arbitrator who write in his own capac­ity. He can be contact­ed at [email protected]/ Phone 0773215904 or 0713008767

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