Competencies to increase the effectiveness of the labour relations officer.
Maharaj, Paresh Athmanand.
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In the nineties, the new political dispensation in South Africa ushered in an era where power and relationship structures of government would be people centered. Section 23 of the Constitution provides for fair labour practices, and subsequent employment laws gives effect to these constitutional rights. Laws introduced new structures and procedures that required greater cooperation. This required a change in mental models, while transcending past unfair labour practices and moving towards more harmonious relationships. Labour Relations is a relatively closed system, because the rule of law is specific about the outcome of a particular action. The Labour Relations Officer is only required to mechanically apply the legislation and policies when providing guidance and support in the organisation. The success of the Labour Relations Officer may be measured by the degree to which they make themselves redundant; that is the extent to which policies, structures, systems and processes instituted and the advice given, allow other managers and supervisors to manage their people on their own. While the transactional role and competencies for Human Resources practice are easy to define, the substantive issues like labour relations are less clear and there is no consistency in the manner in which labour relations is structured, practiced and managed. Prior to the new employment laws, government departments operated on a staff rotation system. Employees were placed in labour relations through the rotation and placement exercise. As a result Labour Relations was staffed with administrators without the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience. Labour Relations is located within the Human Resources Section in the Government Departments in KwaZulu Natal. At the commencement of this study I was employed by the Provincial Department of Housing as an Assistant Manager. The employer and employee relationship was poor, and this was evident by the number of grievances and disputes. Advice was not provided timeously by Labour Relations and advice was also not accepted by management, thereby resulting in disputes. Unions complained that they were not consulted on matters of mutual interest and Labour Relations was accused of being rigid around employment issues. Labour Relations Officials were also viewed as being "partial" because they actively participated in the discipline and arbitration process. The Department of Housing fell under the jurisdiction of the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council, and even collective bargaining was entrenched in the "us and them " mentality. Issues for negotiation were on the agenda for months as the parties were not willing to compromise. The purpose of this study is to explore the emerging set of competencies for Labour Relations Officers operating within the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Chamber in KwaZulu- Natal. Competencies refer to the set of knowledge, skills, abilities and behavior. This qualitative study was undertaken through conversation interviews with Labour Relations Officers, employees and unionists that operate within the jurisdiction of the Bargaining Chamber. The intention of this study is to add value to the practice of labour relations, by assisting Labour Relations Officers to re-invent themselves as the champions of transformation. Furthermore this research would be of value to labour relation's and Human Resource Management staff and students. NOTE: 1. For the purpose of this study the title of Labour Relations Officer and Labour Relations Practitioner are taken to mean the same thing. 2. Reference to the Labour Relations Officer in this study is in the masculine.