2014 'strike' report a mixed bag

(Photo: file, AFP)
(Photo: file, AFP)

Cape Town - The annual Department of Labour Industrial Action - “strike” - report for last year seems to put to bed the fears expressed over a year ago that South Africa was headed for growing and more violent industrial disruption across the board.  

Some analysts, with the memory of Marikana and the subsequent 2012/13 strike wave clearly in mind, felt we could be headed in that direction.

While the number of strikes declined last year to 88 (from 114 in 2013), many went on for longer and resulted in a higher number of working days lost.

Once again, the major driver in days lost was attributed to the mining sector. This is unsurprising, given the recent upsurge in rank and file militancy and the ongoing tension between the two major unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), that is still fighting it expulsion from Cosatu, is also stressing militancy in an attempt to portray the Cosatu leadership as more passive. So it was probably to be expected that NUM, Amcu and Numsa members would dominate the strike log in 2014.

The department also reports that, as in the past, most strikes concerned money:  wages and bonuses. However, the initially high - usually double digit - pay demands by union negotiators were not achieved, with average settlements at 7.5%.

The worrying aspect in the industrial action figures - as in previous years - is that nearly half of recorded strikes are unprotected, indicating weakness in union organisation or disgruntlement at rank and file level, with trade union leaderships.  

However, there now exists an agreement reached between labour and employers that amounts to a form of social compact and includes the suggestion of a national minimum wage. But, even if implemented by government, it is difficult to see how this would stem job losses on the mines.

But the relative collapse of the exchange rate value of the rand may well assist in job retention, if not creation, in other export oriented sectors.

The garment industry has already shown some job creation and other export sectors may, at the very least, be able to sustain current levels of employment.

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