Role of trade union movement to improve regional labor standards within SADC.

AuthorSmit, Paul

In the era of globalization and regional economic treaties trade anions have not involved in a significant debate about what can be done to react. Most trade unions still follow their own historical approach and strategies. If employers can operate freely across national borders through multi-national companies, the trade unions cannot just function within their own national jurisdictions. A new collective interest would be the starting point for a transnational role of trade unions. Globalization and regionalism have altered the balance of power between capital and labor to the disadvantage of labor. This article explores whether the trade union movements within SADC are actively playing a role in combating the effects of regional globalization on labor.

Transnational Labor Relations

We live in an age of transnationalism, where transnational legal norms move around the globe. To some extent these legal norms have been codified by international treaties, whether of a binding or nonbinding nature. Shaffer (2012) maintains that the source of these transnational legal norms may be an international treaty, international soft law, privately created codes or standards, a foreign legal model that is promoted by a transnational actor, or a combination of them. Globalization and the increasing movement of capital and labor across international borders, with the exception of migrant workers who are facing major obstacles by immigration laws, are creating a situation where laws in general and labor laws in particular are obtaining an international character. Internationally the problem of movement of labor is the asymmetric structure between capital and labor in regard to the freedom of movement. In view of increasing globalization, the Conventions of the International Labor Organization (hereafter the ILO) have assumed greater prominence in recent years. Internationalization and globalization have had a growing impact in many areas especially on legal and economic relations (Smit, 2010).

There has been a rapid growth in the role of international agreements and supranational authority over the past 40 years that regulate economic, social, communications, environmental and human rights behavior (Simmons, 1998). The original concept of transnational relations encompasses almost everything in world politics, except inter-state relations. This has led to a situation where many sovereign nation-states were forced to choose a side in establishing their political, economic, social, and cultural relations and operations, which, in itself, again led to regionalism.

Transnationalism and all its different facets have a major influence on all the different role players in Transnational Companies (TNC's) and especially the employment relationship. Dickmann, Miiller-Camen & Kelliher (2008) reported that not only does a TNC need to integrate various human resource principles and policies to create cohesion and they support the view held by Gennard (2008) that a TNC will have to implement transnational human resource management (THRM) practices.

It becomes problematic where employment or labor decisions that are taken in one area of the world have an effect on employment relations somewhere else in the world. It is apparent that transnational relationships of actors have become so intertwined that it is almost impossible to understand the strategies of actors within one country without referring to the events and strategies of actors in other countries (Lillie & Greer, 2007). It would seem as if transnational capital plays national environments against each other but at the same time attempts to create a genuinely global business environment (Lillie & Lucio, 2012). Greer and Hauptmeier (2008) stated that the globalization of markets and firms has had a profound impact on labor relations and they defined labor transnationalism as: "The spatial extension of trade unionism through the intensification of co-operation between trade unionists across countries using transnational tools and structures".

Research on labor transnationalism is becoming more important due to the rapid growth in TNCs. Political entrepreneurs can play a vital role in the development of labor transnationalism. Political entrepreneurs should have the vision to look at transnational strategies and the leadership skills to impact on their own constituencies. International (or global) framework agreement (IFA) which is an instrument negotiated between a multinational enterprise and a Global Union Federation (GUF) in order to establish an on-going relationship between the parties and ensure that the company respects the same standards in all the countries where it operates also impacted on the research on labor transnationalism. Helfen and Fichter (2013) is of the opinion that: "academic research is only beginning to deal with what we would define as an emerging arena of transnational labor relations."

It would appear that transnational labor relations are still in an emerging, formative phase considering institutionalization, projecting a very fragmented, diverse and mixed picture of development. Lillie and Lucio (2012) have identified that there are two dominant trends in transnational labor relations research; namely the optimists who show how it can work in specific situations, and then there are pessimists who stress labor's vulnerability against management-devised competitive frameworks.

The expansion of transnational labor relations and the establishment of regional labor standards would require trade unions to reassert their main objectives in a contemporary language so that they can effectively function in flexible labor markets and different workplaces (Taylor, 1999). There are obvious obstacles that stand in the way of development of a realistic and permanent transnational labor relations system as transnational trade union federations must decide on strategies to confront the countless challenges from increasing globalization. The development of transnational labor relations and regional labor standards are of great importance as it can assist organized labor to mobilize and enhance its power through international agreements across national borders.

The fundamental norm of international law is pacta sunt servanda--treaties are to be obeyed, the compliance with international treaties and law is therefore also a very important normative process. Anecdotal evidence suggests that especially African countries tend to negate on their obligations as parties to international treaties or in terms of international law. The question can thus rightly be asked: why some countries do not comply? Chayes and Chayes (1993) stated that the non-complying behavior can be attributed to the following factors:

i. Ambiguity and indeterminacy of treaty language as it varies in its determ inacy.

ii. Limitations on the capacity of parties to carry out their undertakings. Apart from the political will to comply, the choices that must be made domestically require scientific and technical judgment which states, especially in developing countries, may be lacking.

iii. All treaties require a period of transition before mandated changes can be accomplished. Changing conditions and underlying circumstances require a shifting mix of regulatory instruments to which state behavior cannot instantly respond. Treaties are not just "aspirational", the ultimate goal is to start a process that will over time bring states into greater congruence with treaty ideals.

The traditional model of industrial relations that are limited to the borders of nation states is increasingly becoming problematic, with the opening of and merging of labor markets, of which the European integration process is a very good example (Seifert, 2012). The use of international labor standards in domestic law must be based on the legal materials available to states under its domestic laws. These materials include, international customary law, the manner in which a state's constitution articulates...

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