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Mr Ronald Bernickow (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Mr Ronald Bernickow (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His outstanding lifelong contribution to the fight for social justice and persistence in challenging the system that oppressed the people of South Africa.
Profile of Mr Ronald Bernickow

Mr Ronald Bernickow left school at the age of 16 and worked as a messenger for a short stint. Soon he witnessed the injustice endured by workers, and began to organise newspaper vendors and workers in the media industry.

He is a founding member of the Media Workers Association of South Africa and in 1979, became its first full-time employee in the Western Cape, tasked with establishing the organisation in the region following the strike by black journalists and black newspaper workers at the time.

He served as the senior negotiator and representative of media workers with the South African Associated Newspapers and the Argus Group, regionally and nationally. He was a fair but tough negotiator and once secured a 23% wage increase for workers in the media industry – an unprecedented agreement, wrote former journalist, Mansoor Jaffer. Bernickow was instrumental in negotiating improved working conditions and permanent employment status for newspaper vendors.

Bernickow played a key role in merger talks that led to the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and later also the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU). While at SACTWU, he conceptualised the union policy on primary healthcare and housing development, and coordinated the union’s national strategy in relation to benefit funds, including union policy on HIV and AIDS.

He also represented labour on the Provincial Tender Board, the Olympic Bid Committee of 2004 and as chairperson of the newly formed Workers’ College (Western Cape), where he served on the Board of Trustees during the early 1990s.

Bernickow later joined the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) as Senior Commissioner and headed the Western Cape region, which he turned around from poor performer to top performer, according to former CCMA Director Nerine Khan.

From 2006, he served as National Senior Commissioner: Operations and played a key management/operational role that helped make the CCMA a recognised state institution.

When required he facilitated ‘big’ national disputes such as the clothing bargaining council disputes and more recently, the De Doorns farmworkers dispute. According to Khan, Bernickow facilitated the closure of the Labour Relations Act Amendment negotiations that had been lingering for several years and all Employment Equity Act amendments.

He served the workers of our country and the labour movement with humble distinction. The historic National Economic Development and Labour Council agreement reached by social partners benefited greatly from the facilitation undertaken by Bernickow, who brought his vast experience as a seasoned negotiator.