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Why do unions serve a purpose?

23 March 2014, 21:00

All South Africans are negatively affected by strikes, be it financially, interruptions in service delivery or emotionally. We need to ask ourselves why South Africa is so prone to strikes and then if unions still serve a valid purpose? Unfortunately and undeniably in South Africa they do, but they might not have to!

I want to tell you of an experience I had at one company. It is a medium-sized company, yet not a single employee belonged to a union. When I asked the director at that stage, about this, his words were “if any employees feel they need to belong to a union, then I have failed as a manager and leader”. He continued to indicate that his role as CEO of the company was to also ensure that ALL staff members are happy in their work, developed to their full potential, and completely up to date as to the company’s finances. I should also point out that the company is fully BEE compliant and the staff component very diverse, consisting of both professional staff (with formal qualifications) as well as manual labourers, people for all races and backgrounds, but working together in absolute harmony. The CEO made it a requirement that all staff members have an opportunity to raise the voices, debate (he thrived on this) and listen to each other.

Needless to say I have great respect for this man who having a deep understand of human behaviour and values, instilled a sense of trust and loyalty in the organisation. As such I have great sympathy for those people who work for greedy managers and owners.  I also need to point out that the organisation I mentioned never lost a day’s work due to strikes.

Do unions serve a purpose? Yes, as long as we have managers and so-called leaders who are not concerned with the well-being of the employees. As long as we have managers and so-called leaders who actually fail horribly at being able to lead effectively in a diverse and competitive environment. Employees will invariably continue to rely on unions if work environments and behaviours do not change. Don’t expect your employees to work in an environment and for a salary that you are not willing to inflict on yourself or your family members.

I know that this letter will receive a lot of negative comments, but it will not change the fact that we need leaders now more than ever – leaders in the true sense of the word (and by that I don’t mean charismatic leaders necessarily). Leaders that bring people together for the purpose of creating a sustainable and stable future for all of us. It is my opinion that the existence of unions (and the subsequent power they have gained) is a symptom of lack of true leadership!

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