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The Root Cause of Local Strikes

08 October 2012, 08:32

One is both saddened and scared by the behaviour and the resolve of the workers striking for higher wages and better working conditions. Around 100 000 workers are currently on strike across the country. Several industries had been paralysed by the protracted work stoppages and public violence. Investor confidence, credit ratings and the value of the currency have all taken a knock. Gleaning media reports for the root cause of the strike does not bring much clarity or joy. Unhappiness with low wages and trade union representation, an emotional divide between white company management and workers and the ineptness and failure of trade unions to merge a bond between employers and workers seem to be the most popular causes.

 In human resources management jargon the root cause can probably be described as employee disengagement. Employee engagement is defined as “the extent to which people enjoy and believe in what they do and feel valued for doing it.” The primary driver of employee engagement is the organization. Employees will feel engaged when they feel valued, their jobs are aligned with goals, managers are effective, employees are engaged in work and senior leaders and people practices are trusted. One must also know and understand the differences in the mindsets and values of the generations of employees present in the workforce. Workers born after 1965 (generation x) and 1980 (generation y) are different in their attitudes to work and their work ethics from the so-called baby-boomers (born before 1964). The younger generations desire to feel valued and want to know what is in it for them.

To ascertain whether employees are valued one has to investigate and compare the job grades, the wage structures, social benefits, working conditions, learning and career growth opportunities for the industry in an international context. Especially interesting is the wage structure for mineworkers in Australia. A report in the Wall Street Journal (U.S. Edition) of Wednesday, November 16, 2011 reported that a 25-year-old high-school dropout from Western Australia makes $200,000 a year running drills in underground mines to extract gold and other minerals. The average salary in the Australian mining industry was about 108,000 Australian dollars, or about US $110,000, in 2010, which includes some part-time and lower-skilled workers. (john.miller@dowjones.com).

 It is clear that the employee engagement profile of workers in local industries requires an in-depth assessment and international benchmarking. There is so much at stake for the future of the South African economy and society that any delay in the appointment of a special commission for Industry Employee Engagement Rehabilitation, could prove to be fatal.


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