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Investigating the impact of COVID-19 on collective bargaining and workers' livelihoods: the case of NEHAWU in Durban.

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Collective bargaining is often associated with higher earnings, greater security for employees, and greater earnings equality. During the collective bargaining financial circles of 2019/2020, 2020/2021, 2021/2022 South African collective bargaining could not meet this protective function. Protective function means ensuring adequate pay, deciding on limits on daily or weekly working hours, and regulating other working conditions. The failure of wage negotiations during the above collective bargaining circles had hampered the South African government’s plan to reduce the levels of race and gender inequality, and it has also had a negative impact on the country’s economic growth. This study investigates the impact of COVID 19 on collective bargaining and workers’ livelihoods, using the case of NEHAWU in Durban. The National Education, Health, and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) is one of the largest trade unions in South Africa, which organizes both in the public and private sectors (especially with regard to state-owned entities). A qualitative research approach was adopted together with an exploratory research design to conduct an in-depth exploration of the phenomenon under study. Semi-structured interviews (both face-to-face and online) were employed for data collection among the leaders and members of NEHAWU in Durban. Thematic analysis was used to code the qualitative data and identify the emerging themes and subthemes. Meanwhile a non-probability sampling method was employed, and a purposive sampling technique was used to identify a sample of 10 (ten) participants for the study. “Collective bargaining: a veritable tool for resolving conflict”, the theory of collective bargaining by Kolatikan (2014) as well as three theoretical perspectives in industrial relations (the Unitary, the Radical and Pluralistic perspectives) combined to form the framework that underpin this study. The research study revealed that the failure of collective bargaining during 2019/2020, 2020/2021, and 2021/2022 collective bargaining circles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic did not only disrupted workers’ livelihoods but it also reversed workers’ level of life and deepened gender, race, and class inequalities. The study also revealed that the salary freeze experienced during the above collective bargaining circles, coupled with the rise in food and petrol prizes, drove some workers into hard-core poverty, a level of the working poor, with workers occupying the lowest rungs of the payment system bearing the most brunt. The study recommends that collective bargaining needs to be strengthened and protected, especially during disasters such as COVID-19. It also recommends the up skilling of the low-paid workers so that they can move up the salary rungs. It further recommends that collective bargaining should prioritize workers who are in the lowest rungs of the salary payment system.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.