NBCLI & History



One of the key functions of SAFLIA revolves around Industrial Relations. This comprises interaction with the National Bargaining Council for the Leather Industries (NBCLI) of South Africa and the Labour Union representatives National Union of Leather & Allied Workers (NULAW) & South African Clothing & Textiles Workers Union (SACTWU). The key components of these activities are highlighted in the sub-categories linked hereto.



Prior to the establishment of the Council in 1926, and in the pre-World War I years, it was a small band of tanning and footwear pioneers that gave the industry its send off by personal enterprise and initiative, with no government assistance and no trade organisation to speak of. When war broke out in 1914, South Africa was still dependent on the importation of the major portion of its better quality boots and shoes. By the end of the War, South African manufacturers were supplying a very large proportion of South African needs in medium grade footwear and a certain amount of even the higher grades.

By this time the Chambers of Industries in the major cities had been established. As early as 1916 there was an attempt to form a footwear manufacturers’ forum in the Port Elizabeth area, then the major centre for footwear production. In the Western Cape, for example, meetings of the Leather Trade Section of the Cape Chamber of Industries were regularly held. By 1919 the Cape Western and North Western Leather Industries Employers’ Association had been established. From 1924 to 1930 rapid industrial progress was induced by the Protection Policy resulting in increased importation of technical experts and improved plant. With this remarkable growth in industrial activity and employment, these years brought into being nearly every trade organisation that was in existence for the next 2 decades – National trade unions, employer organisations, industrial councils, apprenticeship committees and technical colleges.

The Industrial Conciliation Act was introduced in 1924 and set the scene for the establishment of Industrial Councils.

The registration certificate of the council dated 26 July 1926 lists the following parties - 2 trade unions and 6 employer organizations.


    National Union of Leather Workers

    Johannesburg Boot and Shoe Workers Union

      Employers: Midland Leather Industries Manufacturers Association; Cape Western & North Western Leather Industries Employers Association; Transvaal Footwear, Tanning and Leather Trades’ Association; Natal Footwear, Tanning & General Leather Manufacturers Association; South Western Districts Leather Industries Association; Border Leather Industries Manufacturers Association. The registration certificate was signed by Thomas Boydell, Minister of Labour. Problems were experienced with the first agreement published by the Council. A judgment by Justice Greenberg in October 1926, declared the agreement ultra vires.

      The Agreement was re-published on 17 August 1926. Agreement was reached that the Council would be funded by levies from both employers and employees alike. By 1927 there were District Committees operating in all the areas covered by the Council, with the exception of Natal.

      The Council and all its district committees were administered by the various regional Chambers of Industries who carried out the districts’ secretarial work. A decision was taken by the Council in 1977 to sever its secretarial connection with the Midland Chamber of Industries, and formed its own head office in Port Elizabeth. Later, the various district committees also severed their ties with the chambers of industry, and became autonomous.

      The Footwear Manufacturers Federation or FMF as it was known, was established in 1944 and operated from Port Elizabeth. In June 1982 it was registered as an employer’s federation and on 12 June 1984 as a national employer’s organisation, and for the first time became a party to the Council. Subsequently the regional associations were dissolved. In 2002 SAFLIA became a party to the Council, having been formed by an expansion of the FMF to also embrace component manufacturers and suppliers.

      The tanners established their own employer organisation as far back as 1946, known as the SA Tanning Employers Organisation. The SA Handbag Manufacturers Association was formed in 1960 and operated separately from that of general leather goods, but in 1996 the two sector agreements were combined, with one employer organisation, the Association of South African Manufacturers of Luggage, Handbags and General Goods. Up to 1989 the two union parties remained the NULAW and the Transvaal Union in later years known as the Transvaal Leather and Allied Industrial Union.

      Subsequently the National Union of Leather Workers (NULW) changed its name to National Union of Leather and Allied Workers (NULAW).

      A Sick Benefit Fund (SBF) was introduced in 1942, and covered all employees in the leather industry. The provisions of the SBF were incorporated in the main agreement at the time, and a separate agreement for the fund alone was published in 1944, in which year sick pay was also introduced. The fund’s health care centres were introduced in KwaZulu Natal between 1993 and 1997 and in 1998 in Cape Town.

      The Leather Industry Provident Fund was formed in 1943, and the first agreement was published in 1946. A mortgage bond scheme was established in 1986 with the aid of Syfrets Trust and later JH Isaacs, whereby members could purchase their own homes. This scheme was superseded by the ‘housing benefit scheme” in 1995 through which members could apply for loans to purchase houses against their benefits. In 2004 the administration of the Leather Industry Provident Fund was outsourced to Alexander Forbes but exclude the asset management of the fund which is the responsibility of the Trustees, ably assisted by the fund's asset managers and investment advisors. Subsequently, National Benefit Consultants (NBC) Holdings were appointed as the new Administrators of the LIPF from 1 January 2013.

      During the period 1990 to 2005 the leather sector experienced a significant decrease in the number of employees in the industry from 40,000 to 15,000. This had a tremendous impact on the revenue of both the Council and its funds. These challenges were faced resolutely and major decisions were taken to curtail expenditure such as restructuring of the Council, reducing the size of the staff complement, Committees, and the number of meetings. The office was moved from Port Elizabeth to Durban where the largest concentration of leather enterprises are found.

      The advent of the new Labour Relations Act in 1995 resulted in various changes to the Council’s structures, inter alia the Council become accredited for dispute resolution procedures, and Council Agents underwent extensive training through the CCMA to become accredited to conduct conciliation hearings. Collective Agreements all had to be amended to include clauses for granting of exemptions, and dispute resolution procedures.