Johannesburg – Social dialogue "takes too long and achieves too little", according to Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
Speaking at Nedlac's annual conference on Friday, Davies berated the handful of "settlements" that were negotiated last year and announced with great fanfare - including the agreement on local manufacture.
The pioneering forum - at which South Africa's most important economic policies have been negotiated between government, labour and the business sector since 1995 - is being criticised from many quarters after a year of stalemate over labour laws and the proposed youth wage subsidy.
Nedlac has moreover received a qualified audit in its annual report, which was presented at the conference.
Nedlac needs a few "instant programmes", said Davies. One example would be for it to return to the original intention with the expanded programme for public works, which has so far consisted mainly of roadworks.
The idea was for the most labour-intensive methods possible to be used, but in reality roads have been built according to conventional mechanised methods.
"Since 2002 we have neglected to institute the best labour-intensive methods. The situation needs to be re-examined," Davies said.
"It is a problem if we keep entering into agreements when the initial ones have not been implemented." Nedlac needs to rectify this.
Lionel October, Davies' director general, added that Nedlac should be more selective about who attends the forum.
"The focus should be on what has social impact, especially the problems of poor workers and those without jobs," said October. "We should not simply approve new legislation."
Business leader Professor Raymond Parsons said the Nedlac agenda has become less government-driven.
"If the business sector is unhappy about something, it has a responsibility to bring this to Nedlac."
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe received applause from the Nedlac delegates when he referred to the decreasing quality of participation at Nedlac.
The process is devolving into a talk session because government and the business sector are sending junior representatives who have no authority to take decisions, said Motlanthe.
Nedlac executive director Alistair Smith said criticism and calls for Nedlac to be dissolved were nothing new.
Discussions on the wage subsidy had came to a halt and he admitted that Nedlac's inability to achieve compromises in terms of labour legislation had stolen the limelight.
"But much had been achieved. The Employment Equity Amendment Act and the Employment Services Act were finalised within three months," he said.
Nedlac's qualified audit arises out of expenditure of R836 332, for which there is no supporting documentation. This involves 4% of the organisation's budget.
The Black Business Council (BBC) has now secured a "marriage of equals" with Business Unity South Africa (Busa), which it was previously unable to do within that organisation.
Busa and the BBC announced a memorandum of understanding in which, according to the black business group, it can appoint half of the business sector's six delegates to Nedlac's board of control.
Ostensibly, that is almost exactly the type of authority that the BBC had previously demanded within Busa, which had been refused. BBC then resigned from the organisation.
"It makes no sense to have a business group that is excluded from Nedlac," said Busa CEO Nomaxibiso Majokweni on Friday.
BBC delegates' representation in all other Nedlac structures will depend on the subject under discussion, it was said.
BBC chief executive Xolani Qubeka said this agreement is a "homecoming", because the BBC's chief member, Nafcoc, was represented in Nedlac before Busa was created. "We allow for a possible difference of opinion."”
But Qubeka said there is still no talk of a reunion between BBC and Busa.
"If it happens, then it happens," said Majokweni.
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