Cape Town - The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry and labour federation Cosatu held court in Cape Town on Monday to discuss ways of saving jobs in the Western Cape.
The chamber's executive director, Viola Manuel, said its members and Cosatu were looking at "very practical ways" of working together.
"The message emerging at the conference is that the solution is not about creating jobs, it's about saving jobs," Manuel told Sapa.
"Lots of things could drive us apart. We are looking at how we can work together to overcome challenges to labour and business."
Employers want Cosatu to take a softer stance on labour laws, saying it was strangling businesses and preventing investment in South Africa.
The conference heard that 80 labour dispute cases were being reported to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration every day. This was leading to lost time and productivity.
Speakers at the meeting proposed several solutions, including the reform of the bargaining council system and allowing the poor to negotiate less than the minimum wage.
Cosatu Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich
said business dropping its demand for an overhaul of labour legislation had helped reduce tension.
"One of the key things is that we agree for the need to establish decent work, meaning that businesses would comply with the labour laws," he said.
"Business calls to review the labour framework were too strong and would never happen. So we both agreed to park that issue and look at other things where we could be constructive."
Ehrenreich said Cosatu and business should work together to protect the country's industrial base.
Cosatu Western Cape has expressed concern about slow economic growth. GDP is forecast to grow at 3.4% in 2011.
"We are going to be looking at implementing many of the plans from the New Growth Path such as skills development, procurement policies, defensive support measures for industries, competition policies and new green industries," Ehrenreich said.
Should Cosatu and the chamber sign a memorandum of understanding at the meeting as proposed, it would be the first of its kind between provincial representatives of organised labour and organised business.