There were 67 work stoppages in 2011, a slight decrease from 74 in the previous year, according to statistics released by the Department of Labour on Wednesday.
Although the strikes were fewer last year than in 2010, they cost more in wage losses, the Industrial Action Report 2011 reveals.
Last year, approximately R1.07 billion was lost due to the participation of employees in work stoppages, compared with R407.082 million in 2010. The report says 52.3 percent of the strikes in 2011 lasted between six days and 10 days, up from 44.4 percent in 2010.
These were the strikes involving the mining and manufacturing companies.
The report says wages, bonuses and other compensation continued to be the main cause for strikes in 2011 and 95.8 percent of strikes in the year were as a result of wage disputes.
“Other causes include working conditions, refusal to bargain, retrenchments, disciplinary matters, trade union recognition and grievances,” says the report.
“The widening gap between the workers’ wages and that of their bosses led to the double-digit demands that workers were advancing during negotiations [with employers],”
The department’s strike database also shows that the number of working days lost to work stoppages in 2011 also decreased to 2 806 656 working days – with 203 238 employees involved – compared with a record 20 674 737 working days that were lost in 2010 – with 1 191 813 employees involved.
The report says the number of working days lost in 2010 was higher than in 2011 because of the public sector strike that took place in July and August 2010.
The number of working days lost last year represents a decline of 636 percent on the previous year.
The report says the “winter period” – June to September – still remains as what is generally known as the “strike season”, as many stoppages occurred during this period. It represents 87 percent or 2 448 409 of the total working days lost in 2011.
The department says at the national level, it estimated an average of 65 strikes over five years – 2007 to 2011.
Compared with other developing countries, this signals good negotiating skills among all parties involved in the process of labour disputes, says the report. “In other words, the commitment of all parties to negotiate in good faith can lead to economic stability in the country.”
The report says the recent spate of strikes come as wage agreements, mostly spanning for one-year, come to an end.
“Multiyear-agreements offer a sense of stability for the duration of the agreements. However, the unions and the employers have different views on this issue, especially in a climate of economic uncertainty and volatility.”
It adds that the decision to strike can be a contentious issue in these hard economic times due to its effect on the economy.