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Employee participation and voice in companies : a legal perspective
Botha, Monray Marsellus
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Recently, South African company law underwent a dramatic overhaul through the introduction of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. Central to company law is the promotion of corporate governance: companies no longer are accountable to their shareholders only but to society at large. Leaders should direct company strategy and operations with a view to achieving the triple bottom-line (economic, social and environmental performance) and, thus, should manage the business in a sustainable manner. An important question in company law today: In whose interest should the company be managed? Corporate governance needs to address the entire span of responsibilities to all stakeholders of the company, such as customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and the community at large. The Companies Act aims to balance the rights and obligations of shareholders and directors within companies and encourages the efficient and responsible management of companies. The promotion of human rights is central in the application of company law: it is extremely important given the significant role of enterprises within the social and economic life of the nation. The interests of various stakeholder groups in the context of the corporation as a “social institution” should be enhanced and protected. Because corporations are a part of society and the community they are required to be socially responsible and to be more accountable to all stakeholders in the company. Although directors act in the best interests of shareholders, collectively, they must also consider the interests of other stakeholders. Sustainable relationships with all the relevant stakeholders are important. The advancement of social justice is important to corporations in that they should take into account the Constitution, labour and company law legislation in dealing with social justice issues. Employees have become important stakeholders in companies and their needs should be taken into account in a bigger corporate governance and social responsibility framework. Consideration of the role of employees in corporations entails notice that the Constitution grants every person a fundamental right to fair labour practices. Social as well as political change became evident after South Africa's re-entry into the world in the 1990s. Change to socio-economic conditions in a developing country is also evident. These changes have a major influence on South African labour law. Like company law, labour law, to a large extent, is codified. Like company law, no precise definition of labour law exists. From the various definitions, labour law covers both the individual and collective labour law and various role-players are involved. These role-players include trade unions, employers/companies, employees, and the state. The various relationships between these parties, ultimately, are what guides a certain outcome if there is a power play between them. In 1995 the South African labour market was transformed by the introduction of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995. The LRA remains the primary piece of labour legislation that governs labour law in South Africa. The notion of industrial democracy and the transformation of the workplace are central issues in South African labour law. The constitutional change that have taken place in South Africa, by which the protection of human rights and the democratisation of the workplace are advanced contributed to these developments. Before the enactment of the LRA, employee participation and voice were much-debated topics, locally and internationally. In considering employee participation, it is essential to take due cognisance of both the labour and company law principles that are pertinent: the need for workers to have a voice in the workplace and for employers to manage their corporations. Employee participation and voice should be evident at different levels: from information-sharing to consultation to joint decision-making. Corporations should enhance systems and processes that facilitate employee participation and voice in decisions that affect employees. The primary research question under investigation is: What role should (and could) employees play in corporate decision-making in South Africa? The main inquiry of the thesis, therefore, is to explore the issue of granting a voice to employees in companies, in particular, the role of employees in the decision-making processes of companies. The thesis explores various options, including supervisory co-determination as well as social co-determination, in order to find solutions that will facilitate the achievement of employee participation and voice in companies in South Africa.
- Law