SA must regain trust of its workers

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Leadership

South Africa needs new, bold and pragmatic solutions to its old problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment. These problems have provided fertile ground for the unprotected strikes which mark a turning point in the country’s hitherto revered industrial relations system.

To preserve the integrity of any system requires a balanced combination of incentives and disincentives for role players to adhere to. There must be serious consequences for any party, whether it is the government, business or labour, that deviates from the agreed system and processes.

We are where we are because of a deficit in consequence management in our industrial relations system. This needs to be resolved effectively as part of finding a lasting solution to the current crisis.

Any end to the strikes is likely to be short-lived if the fundamental socio-economic factors at play remain unresolved. The strikes have far-reaching implications for the balance of forces within the labour movement with hitherto relatively unknown unions emerging and international socialist groups jostling for position in pursuit of their dream of a workers’ revolution to overthrow the capitalist system.

There are clear attempts by sections of the international socialist movement to broaden the scope of the strikes to be as much about bread-and-butter issues as they are about advancing the socialist project through a workers’ party of sorts. Appreciating all the factors at play in the strikes is key to finding a lasting solution.

The Democratic Socialist Movement, with backing from socialists from countries such as the UK and Canada, has been very quick to move in and mobilise for more sustained strike action to bring the industry to its knees. This is an aspect of the crisis which cannot be dealt with through the collective bargaining processes.

Kusenidlamini Kuseni Dlamini. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

It requires other appropriate forms of engagement. It is in everyone’s interest that the industrial relations system is rebuilt where it has broken down and protected and deepened in the majority of sectors of the economy where it still remains intact. A good industrial relations system is key and indispensable to South Africa’s global competitiveness.

Employer-employee relations will remain a contested site of struggle as long as most South Africans feel – as they currently do – that the liberation dividend continues to elude them.

This is one of the areas we need to improve on to restore our people’s dignity and enhance the country’s global competitiveness.

Business, labour and the government need to form creative and productive partnerships to ensure effective and quality service delivery in all poor areas, not just at or around the mines. Poverty and unemployment anywhere is a threat to peace and stability everywhere.

At the core of what needs to be done is unlocking the economy’s full growth potential through massive and sustained investments in human capital.

There is a need for a massive push to improve productivity and efficiency and encourage innovation across all sectors of the economy.

We also need to increase the knowledge intensity of our economy as knowledge is, in the ultimate analysis, one of the sustainable sources of competitive advantage. Mineral resources are finite. Knowledge is not. Most of the world’s successful economies are knowledge based.

Ensuring the effective implementation of the New Growth Path and the Industrial Action Plan is absolutely key to unlocking the country’s industrialisation potential through globally competitive and labour-intensive manufacturing.

What we need is a new culture and mindset of execution and delivering results that matter to the country’s growth and development agenda.

The current state of crisis in our industrial relations system should be leveraged as an opportunity to engage and rally the country around a compelling tangible sense of common purpose. It is a time to reinvent our economy to be more dynamic, inclusive and globally competitive.

Smart and effective leadership across all sectors is what is required. Finger pointing and political point scoring is what is not required at this stage.

Sober and cool minds are required to drive a strategic and constructive conversation to restore order and stability in the country’s mining industry.

This is everyone’s problem. It is not the mining industry’s problem alone. Nor is it the government’s or labour’s problem only. Business, the government, labour and other organs of civil society are in this together. We will sink or swim together.

The recent meeting of the social partners convened by President Jacob Zuma was the right move at the right time. It needs to happen on a more regular basis and not wait for the eruption of a crisis.

The meeting should be backed by concrete and innovative ways to restore and reassert the integrity of the country’s celebrated post-apartheid industrial relations architecture, which has been severely battered by Marikana and its aftermath.

The avalanche of negative reporting by the international media should galvanise the country to do what it takes to reinvent itself to be a globally competitive, admired and great nation. This can and must be done. It requires deep and genuine commitment to the country’s success by business, the government and labour leaders as well as investment in people, institutions, systems and processes that work.

The good thing with The Economist article is that it said nothing new. The bad thing is that it deliberately and purposefully adopted a glass half empty perspective in its analysis and, in so doing, denied its readers the usually balanced, informed and rigorous analysis that The Economist is well known and respected for.

Since the discourse on nationalisation was unleashed by the ANC Youth League in 2009, it has become fashionable (both at home and abroad) to bash South Africa and totally disregard the numerous assurances by President Jacob Zuma, Ministers Pravin Gordhan and Susan Shabangu and other senior leaders of the ANC that nationalisation is not government policy.

The key thing in responding to The Economist is to address the true and accurate shortcomings highlighted, which are not unknown to us, and proactively showcase and highlight, on a sustained and prominent basis, the huge achievements that have been and are being made to position South Africa to be a great nation for its people and the world at large.

The wave of strikes in the mining industry need smart, visible and heartfelt leadership by business, the government and labour to address the huge trust deficit that has emerged between employees and employers as well as union leaders.

A back-to-basics campaign involving all leaders is required as are new and innovative ways of managing and leading workers in the current climate and beyond.

Kuseni Dlamini is a former head of Anglo American South Africa and a former director of Anglo Platinum.


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