Experienced Labour Lawyer Johannesburg

Experienced Labour Lawyers – The History of Employment Relations in Johannesburg and the Rest of RSA

If you are looking for an experienced, Johannesburg-based labour lawyer, consider the services of Allardyce & Partners. We are a boutique law firm that specialises in the following areas of law:

  • Labour & employment law
  • Commercial law
  • Procurement law
  • Equine law
  • Family law
  • Construction law


You can expect to have an experienced labour lawyer assist you regarding any aspect of labour law as relevant to South Africa. We provide our services to clients in Johannesburg, Durban and any other area of the country and we are registered with the Law Society.

Understanding why an experienced labour lawyer, whether based in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein or Durban can assist you as employer, employer organisation, employee or union starts with understanding the history of South African labour law and as such, we provide a brief overview of the development of labour law in the country.

The Bill of Rights

The South African Constitution includes a Bill of Rights in which several labour rights are protected, including the right to freedom of association and labour relations. According to the Bill of Rights, you have the right to fair labour practice, as a worker you have the right to be part of a trade union or to form one, and you have the right to strike and participate in union activities. As an employer you have the right to be part of an employer organisation and to partake in the activities of the organisation. You also have the right to form an employer organisation. Collective bargaining is a process which the employer organisation, trade union or the employer may use. However, the above rights were not always in place.

The First Unions and Development of Labour Laws

Before the discovery of minerals, such as gold, labour relationships were governed by a series of acts, but with the discovery of diamonds, gold and other minerals, the economy quickly grew and there were many people employed within the mining industry. Many foreign workers were also employed and by the early 1880s the first trade union for Africa came into being. Known as the Carpenters & Joiners Union, it had the purpose of being representative of the foreign employees in the mining industry.

Mining disputes led to a large scale strike in 1914. It was a particularly violent era in the employment history of the country. Due to the labour unrest, the leaders of the unions were all deported. However, the action didn’t stop labour unrest, though there was a short period of so-called employment peace. A downturn in the economy together with rising living costs, in addition to the country’s debt meant that mines would have to restructure with numerous employees losing their jobs in the process. Because of ratio changes in skilled and unskilled workers and races, the retrenchments created cracks in the already volatile employment relations.

A strike broke out in 1922 and because of this strike the Industrial Conciliation Act came into being, which would eventually become the Labour Relations Act more than two decades later.  By the early 1950s the Suppression of Communism Act came into force, which was also used for the suppression of unions. With large scale labour and political unrest in the fifties, the Industrial Conciliation Act was amended to create more control over employees.

Labour unrest continued and by the late 1970s, the Wiehahn Commission of Inquiry was appointed for investigating the labour issues in the country. The Commission made several recommendations, which would significantly change the employment relationships and rights of employees in the country. One such a recommendation was the right of freedom of association that would become applicable to any person regardless of their gender or race. It paved the road for black employee representative unions to also refer to the provisions in the Labour Law in their actions.

The Interim Constitution, which came into being in 1993, was another watershed moment in the labour law history of the country. The Labour Relations Act had to be changed to fulfil the requirements of the new constitution and this led to the appointment of a task team to draft the bill for the Labour Relations Act of 1995.

When we briefly look at the history of labour relations in the country, we gain an understanding of why laws, the interpretation thereof and the instruments that can be used in negotiations are so important. We at Allardyce & Partners have a team of experienced labour lawyers to assist in the appearances at CCMA, Labour Court and Labour Appeal Court, drafting of employment contracts, disciplinary hearings and also to assist employees or employers and their representative organisations regarding strikes, lockouts, negotiations and disputes.

View our full profile of labour law services in Johannesburg and other parts of the country. Contact us at reception@www.allardyce.co.za or on 011 234 2125 for professional legal advice and assistance.


NB this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You are advised to consult with us before using/relying on this information.

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