Freedom of association is a fundamental human right proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Section 18 of the South African Constitution provides for the right to freely associate and disassociate. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) regards freedom to associate as one of four core labour principles and goes even further by classifying this as the most important labour principle.

The SIZA Social Standard is built to ensure its alignment with the relevant ILO principles. Section 5 of the SIZA Social Standard directly refers to the right to freedom of association. The code requirements underpinned in Section 5 of the Standard outline the various legislative regulations, employee rights and management responsibilities toward ensuring the business creates an environment where employees can utilise and exercise these rights.

In order to maintain and provide for the various rights as regulated by the Labour Relations Act, Act 66 of 1995 (LRA) as amended, the SIZA Standard explicitly requires in code requirement 5.5. that management must be aware of all the regulations of the LRA and ensure they understand the principles behind freedom of association and what their role is in this regard. Section 12 of the LRA provides for trade unions to be able to access the workplace in order to recruit or communicate with members, or otherwise serve members’ interests. This right is subject to any conditions that are reasonable and necessary to safeguard life or property or to prevent the undue disruption of work. The  SIZA Audit Process and Methodology requires that auditors carefully evaluate whether any of the applicable rights are being disregarded, which is determined through interviews with employees and management, document review, and site surveys.

The right for workers and employers to associate or to disassociate and join organisations or representative structures of their own choosing is an integral part of a free and open society. This right is also rooted in the ILO Constitution and is a necessary means through which employers, their organisations, and trade unions can establish fair wages and working conditions and ensure equal opportunities for women and men.

The right to freedom of association provides a basis for strong labour relations and is encapsulated in the SIZA Social Standard throughout Section 5. Code requirement 5.6 requires that employees are made aware of their rights pertaining to freedom of association. Furthermore, code requirement 5.7 requires that management ensures an effective means of communication is in place whereby employees can engage with management on topics concerning labour relations and fair labour practices.

The Standard recognises the importance of communication between an employer and an employee, as this is largely the basis of the success or failure of that relationship. The purpose of encouraging an employee forum or worker committee is to promote effective communication and the formation of workers to collaborate and engage with management in resolving problems. By ensuring effective worker committees and forums is available to discuss these issues, it makes communication and problem solving between management and employees more effective. The SIZA Audit Process and Methodology ensures the effective evaluation of these principles along with the various requirements set out by the LRA, ILO, and relevant global guidelines. Business practices need to improve to showcase compliance with this fundamental right.