Answered: Discuss the Employer’s Conducts which Constitutes a Refusal to Bargain with the Trade Union?

Question: Discuss the employer’s conduct which constitutes a refusal to bargain with the trade union?

Employers can engage in various conducts that constitute a refusal to bargain with a trade union, which can be problematic for maintaining a healthy labor relations climate. Here are some typical behaviors that signify an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith:

Failure to Recognize the Union

  1. Ignoring Certification: Even after the union is officially certified as the bargaining agent for employees, the employer refuses to acknowledge it as such.

Lack of Responsiveness

  1. Ignoring Communication: Deliberately ignoring or not responding to messages, emails, or formal letters from the union.
  2. No Show at Meetings: Failing to attend scheduled negotiation meetings without a valid reason.

Subversion and Bypassing

  1. Direct Dealing: Negotiating directly with employees instead of going through the union, which undermines the union’s position.
  2. Union Substitution: Attempting to replace the trade union with a company-controlled worker organization.

Unreasonable Delays

  1. Stalling Tactics: Employing tactics designed to delay the negotiation process, such as repeatedly rescheduling meetings or requesting unnecessary data.

Unfair Labor Practices

  1. Retaliation: Threatening or taking disciplinary actions against employees for union involvement.
  2. Surveillance: Monitoring union meetings or activities in a way that intimidates members.

Misrepresentation and Bad Faith

  1. False Promises: Making commitments during negotiations only to backtrack on them later.
  2. Selective Bargaining: Willingness to negotiate minor issues but refusing to discuss major topics like wages, working conditions, or benefits.

Legal Obstruction

  1. Litigation: Filing frivolous lawsuits or complaints against the union to hinder its operations.
  2. Regulatory Challenges: Questioning the legality of the union or its practices in an attempt to delegitimize it.

Understanding these types of employer conduct is important for unions, labor lawyers, and regulatory bodies. They are generally considered unfair labor practices and could lead to legal repercussions for the employer. Therefore, it is essential for employers to avoid such conducts to maintain a constructive relationship with trade unions.


In the South African context, labor relations are governed by the Labour Relations Act of 1995 (LRA), which aims to promote economic development, social justice, labor peace, and democratization of the workplace. This legislation also provides the framework for collective bargaining and sets out both the rights and obligations of employers and trade unions. However, violations do occur, and certain employer conducts can be seen as a refusal to bargain with trade unions.

Examples in South African Context

  1. Failure to Recognize the Union: South African employers might not recognize trade unions, such as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) or the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), even after they meet the threshold for representativeness as stated in the LRA.
  2. Ignoring Communication: Employers might deliberately ignore correspondences from unions, including formal letters calling for negotiation meetings or attempts to resolve labor disputes through the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).
  3. Direct Dealing: An employer might bypass the recognized unions and negotiate directly with employees, undermining the collective bargaining power of the union.
  4. Stalling Tactics: South African employers may drag out the negotiation process by repeatedly rescheduling meetings or requesting excessive information, causing undue delays.
  5. Retaliation: Employers could take punitive actions against unionized workers, which is unlawful in terms of Section 5 of the LRA that protects workers against victimization for lawful union activities.
  6. Legal Obstruction: Employers might resort to legal challenges against unions, questioning the legality of strikes or industrial actions, despite the LRA guidelines for lawful strikes.

Significance in South Africa

Understanding these conducts is especially crucial in South Africa, where labor relations are historically fraught and often intersect with issues of economic inequality, racial discrimination, and social justice. Refusing to bargain in good faith not only violates the LRA but also risks escalating labor disputes, which could lead to strikes, unrest, and potential economic downturns.

Therefore, both unions and employers in South Africa have a vested interest in understanding what constitutes a refusal to bargain, to uphold the standards set by the Labour Relations Act and maintain a harmonious labor environment.

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