2.8m working days lost
10 August 2012 | Jeanette Clark
Though this may seem like a large number, it is a whopping 636% lower than the 20.6 million working days lost in 2010 due to the public sector strike in which more than a million workers downed tools and which lasted for 18 days.
Still, with the 2.8 million working days lost comes a loss in wages, which impacts, directly on the pockets of the workers, but also on the South African economy. In 2011 R1.073 billion was lost in wages.
This was revealed in the Annual Industrial Action Report for 2011, released on Wednesday. According to economists.co.za’s Mike Schüssler, the number of working days lost means that South Africa’s economy probably lost about a third of a full working day last year due to strikes.
He works out that in total the economy lost about R3.2 billion due to strikes last year, using the number of formally employed South Africans and assuming a five-and-a-half-day working week. “This is much better than the last two years, but still above the international average which I believe is around a fifth of a working day. In a country where we have high unemployment it seems that South Africa still has a higher tendency to strike than other countries around the world, which does not increase confidence in our economy,” he told CitiBusiness.
It also appears as if the average duration of individual strikes is steadily on the increase.
In 2003, 31% of all strikes lasted between one and five days, with only 9.67% lasting between six and 10 days.
This has been steadily increasing to only 13.2% of strikes lasting between one and five days and 52.3% lasting between six and ten days in 2011.
At the release of the report, director-general of the Department of Labour, Nkosinathi Nhleko, commented that a strike beyond five days is very difficult to sustain, as it induces fatigue among the workers and the amount of lost wages increase.
He told the media that it is obviously in the best interest of both parties, employee and employer, to settle the dispute in a reasonable amount of time.
Nhleko said that it required strong leadership to contain strikes to within the five-day period and that there was a need for employers and employees to focus on sharpening their negotiation skills and also to ensure that there was exercise of leadership in order to reach a resolution.
The increase in the average duration of strikes is thus a worrying trend and could possibly be attributed to a lack of leadership in representation around the negotiation table.
The department did not want to comment on whether this was indeed the case and said that a more focused study would be necessary to draw this inference.
Schüssler said that the South African labour unions still use “strikes of attrition” where all workers stay away from work and that in many parts of the world labour unions have moved on to use more tactical strikes, only instructing certain employees to stay home at any given time.
“These labour movements know not to destroy the businesses that they work for and also not to destroy the contracts of the businesses that they work for.
“Our unions are typically seen as more radical by overseas labour movements.
“Tactically our labour leaders are making mistakes when they take all the people out to strike, especially with long strikes the workers rarely make up that loss in wages,” he said.
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