Chris Moerdyk

People most struck by strikes are strikers

2013-10-07 07:27

Chris Moerdyk 

It is hardly surprising that the International Monetary Fund has blamed South Africa's labour unions for severely damaging the economy, because that's the perception just about everyone who is not a unionist, must have about our country.

Talk to any small business owner and you will get a litany of sob-stories about how our labour laws actually make it very difficult to actually do business. And the perception is that our labour laws were the result of pressure from the unions.

But, the oddest thing about labour unions and their propensity to call their members out on strike at the drop of a hat, is that it seems to me that the people who are most disadvantaged by strikes are the strikers themselves.

Workers are called out on strike and even those who don't want to strike have to strike otherwise they literally get struck.

Effectively, they all have to go on unpaid leave for a week or two, sometimes more and when they eventually get back to work, in spite of having got an increase it takes months and sometimes years for them just to make up what they lost during the strike.

I am surprised that no chamber of commerce or for that matter investigative reporter, has actually sat down with a sample of strikers to look at their wages and to determine over the past ten years or so just how much they have actually gained from strikes.

I am quite sure that the answers will be extremely illuminating to say the least.

I spoke to a service station owner this week who told me that he paid his petrol pump attendants considerably more than the required minimum. Like most others, they were "forced" to go on strike and when they came back the service station owner told them they would in future get paid wages according to those negotiated during the strike, which meant that most of them would end up earning less.

Whether it was fair or not, whether it was desperation at seeing his attempt to pay more than fair wages being fruitless in terms of labour security,  the service station owner apologised to his workers and said that he was simply following what his and their new "boss", Numsa, was telling them to do. I am quite sure this is not an isolated incident.

Something else that leaves me somewhat dumbfounded is the way trades union members don’t seem to mind the fact that while they have to sacrifice a week or two of income during a strike their union representatives still get paid their salaries.

Having said that, I have to agree with Coast for being annoyed by what the IMF had to say because one cannot only blame the unions for the state of South Africa’s economy.

Government is the main culprit without any shadow of doubt.

One simply cannot make a success out of a country by preaching democracy and free market economics while wearing a communist t-shirt and by implication, supporting the kind of crippling industrial action we are experiencing right now. 

I am perhaps being over-optimistic in believing that one day sanity will return and strikers will wake up to the fact that going on strike instead of negotiating for wage increases will leave them far better off.

And that the majority of the citizens of this country will wake up and discover that the very people they vote into office are the same people they are complaining about during their service-delivery protests.
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