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Making labour relations training count

28th January 2013


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The number of legal and IR professionals who are seeking labour relations training through consultancies such as ours is increasing. However, it is also true that these practitioners often experience great difficulty in passing their learning on within their organisations. The result of this is that the organisation as a whole does not benefit from the knowledge gained.

In addition, because the learning gained from training remains confined to the IR and legal team it is these departments that are stuck with all of the responsibility for dealing with labour issues. For example, many of our clients are still making the mistake of requiring their IR departments to chair disciplinary hearings and to hand down disciplinary sanctions. The truth is that this is extremely poor business practice. While the IR department should provide expert advice and guidance on labour law and disciplinary practice it is line management that must gain the expertise necessary for disciplining their employees and then take charge of making it happen.


In our experience the reasons for the difficulties in passing on the new skills and knowledge include the following:

  • Lawyers and IR specialists are not necessarily training experts. While they themselves may understand the material and develop IR skills they do not always have the expertise to put these across to line management. In such cases corporate IR practitioners sometimes feel embarrassed to call in outside training professionals to carry out the training. While this is understandable it should not be allowed to stand in the way of organisational skill development, particularly in an area as vital as industrial relations.
  • Those Legal and IR practitioners who do have some training skills often implement the training in an academic or theoretical way. That is, they either stand up and talk about labour relations and/or refer the line managers to Eurocentric text books that have little relevance to the South African Shop floor. The training is often omits relevant practical exercises and employer specific role plays and case studies. And very seldom is the training ongoing. The result is that the line mangers undergoing this “training” gets stuck at the theoretical knowledge stage and does not develop the skill necessary to apply the knowledge effectively on the shop floor and in the disciplinary hearing room.
  • It should be kept in mind that, firstly, should the in-house IR practitioner conduct the training badly he/she will get the blame for it. Secondly, where an expert external trainer is used then the internal IR practitioner will still get the credit for high quality training provided that he/she ensures that the initial training is properly followed up. Train the trainer courses are also available.
  • Senior and line managers at whom the training is targeted often have the attitude of, “let the expert handle it, I’ll just mess it up”. But the implementation of discipline is an integral part of line management’s function and no manager can turn down the opportunity to add to his/her skills. It is therefore important that the training is offered in such a way that the line managers see it as a tool towards success, and that it is presented in a fresh and stimulating way geared towards facilitating the manager’s effectiveness and status.

Management is under “too much pressure to waste time on training”. The typical South African line manager and supervisor is much more a doer than a manager. But to say that a manager has no time to undergo training means that the manager is not delegating tasks sufficiently.

  • When line managers do attend IR or labour law training they forget what they learned after a week. The training programme therefore needs to be designed professionally in order to ensure long term retention and effective carry over on to the job.
  • Some line managers believe that unless their employees receive the same training as they do the exercise will be a waste of time. These managers are perfectly correct because, where employees are not trained on the LRA (for example) or get their input from union meetings they will look at labour relations from a very different perspective to that of the manager.

Insufficient funds are budgeted for such training. lt is a never ending source of wonderment to us that employers are not prepared to spend a few hundred rand on training a manager but do not mind taking the risk of having to spend tens of thousands of rand on going to the Labour Courts. We have represented countless employers taken to court because a manager mishandled a shop floor grievance or disciplinary matter and the employee was unfairly dismissed. ln some cases, because the line manager mishandled the matter, the line manager gets fired for incurring unnecessary legal costs!

The potential to manage people well may be inborn to some extent. But the knowledge of the law must be learned as must many skills related to conducting employee management properly in line with the law and company policy.

To book for our 6 March seminar in Johannesburg on Defeating the Dangers of Dismissal please contact Ronni via 0845217492 or

Written by  lvan lsraelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011) 888-7944, 0828522973 or on e-mail address: Go to:

This article first appeared in The Star.


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