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Cape Town - More than R6.6 billion in wages was lost last year due to the “significant increase” in strike action compared to the previous four years.
And many of the 99 strikes that took place involved some form of violence.
Almost half were unprotected and nearly 60 percent involved workers from the mining sector, which experienced a “strike wave”.
Labour director-general Nkosinathi Nhleko, who on Wednesday tabled the department’s annual Industrial Action Report for the 2012 calendar year, blamed “the issue of leadership” for the surge in strike action.
“It’s an issue of how parties conduct themselves. At the level of leadership, something is not being handled properly.”
The DA said the government was not doing enough to facilitate labour bargaining practices and to prevent strikes.
“The report confirms that government has all but lost control of labour unrest in South Africa,” said the DA’s labour spokesman, Sej Motau.
“It is also clear that government has no concrete proposals to solve violence during strikes that continues to plague industrial action.”
Although Nhleko refused to be drawn into speculation about this year’s figures, he did concede that there was a “continuing of the trend as we experienced it in 2012”.
He said 3.3 million working days involving 241 391 employees were lost to strike action last year, compared with the 2.8 million days lost the year before. The worst-hit sectors were mining, manufacturing, community and agriculture.
Another feature of last year’s strikes was the duration - with some industrial action lasting for more than 40 days. Most of the work stoppages were in Gauteng, which recorded 42 strikes.
The Western Cape recorded 15 work stoppages, up only slightly from the 12 of 2011. The total wages lost in the province were just above R13 million.
Michael Bagraim, chairman of the Cape Chamber of Commerce’s human capital portfolio committee, said he expected this year’s figures to show an increased labour unrest in the province. “It won’t calm down until after the elections. In the Western Cape a lot of the strikes are because of politics.”
He said last year was marked by strikes in the agricultural sector, although many of these were politically motivated as well.
The report noted that heightened violence was a feature of industrial action in 2012, particularly in the mining and transport sectors. There was also violence and damage to property in the agricultural sector, but these were associated with protests and not strike action.
Most of the workers involved in the labour unrest were members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said Nhleko.
Wages, bonuses and compensations remained the driving forces behind most of the strike action. Other reasons cited included socio-economic and political conditions.
The report called for the national government to “develop an appropriate response”.
The report noted that a loss of trust in trade unions had led to the prevalent unrest.
“The violent strike events in the last few months of 2012 demonstrated a turning point in the industrial relations system. It has therefore become imperative that organisations, collective bargaining and labour look at policies that will make human rights and social compliance part of their strategies.”
Bagraim said a reassessment of the collective bargaining process was needed. The pendulum had swung from “collective begging” for an increase to “strike at any cost”.
Strikes had an enormous impact on the economy, with business refusing to invest because of the threat of working days being lost to industrial action. This would also have a long-term effect on job creation in the province, he said.