THE BARGAINING council is undemocratic and minority rule masquerading as majority rule, says paint contractor and spokesperson for the Small Builders Association, David Matthews, speaking at a recent debate organised by the Building Industry Bargaining Council (BIBC) and held at their offices.

Matthews, who sat on the BIBC for 11 years until the Council altered its constitution, effectively excluding small business representation, says the BIBC claims to represent all businesses in the construction sector, but doesn't.

The only employers representatives presently on the Council, he says, are from the Master Builders' Association (MBA) with 312 builder members in the Cape Peninsula area. An area, that Matthews estimates to have 3 000 to 6 000 employers.

The Small Builder Association has 45 members, too few to be awarded representation on the council and has been relegated to observer status.

Matthews said the Council works against small contractors because it raises labour costs above their market level. By enforcing compliance the Council denies small employers and their employees wage flexibility, and so restricts competition.

Matthews says the MBA dominates the council and 12 years ago tried to exclude non-members by disallowing contracts to them. The Competition Commission put a stop to its actions, saying they amounted to an industry monopoly.

Speaker Shane Godfrey of the University of Cape Town Law faculty, said that globally the trend has been to decentralise bargaining and do away with councils.

Sedick Hartley, Head of the South Africa Sub-Contractors Association (SASCA) and a small contractor himself, said it is impossible for any subcontractor to adhere to the collective agreement today.

A Council official at the debate, felt there was nothing wrong with the system of bargaining councils, but he believes there is a need to improve the Council's representivity.