Johannesburg - The amount of productive time lost by construction and engineering company Group Five to strikes so far this calendar year has increased by about 30 percent year on year to 78 465 man days.

Junaid Allie, Group Five’s human resources director, attributed this increase to a higher percentage of the workforce that was not unionised: 21.6 percent of the group’s 13 719 employees belonged to unions this year compared with 26 percent in 2009.

He said yesterday that while the percentage of group employees who were unionised had decreased, Group Five now had to negotiate with 10 major unions, compared with five unions in 2009.

The number of unions has increased but the percentage of employees wanting to be associated with a union has decreased, which has added a level of complexity in that it has had to negotiate with more unions but has more employees who are not unionised.

Allie believed the lower degree of unionisation resulted from employees feeling they could negotiate differently from the unions, and certain union groups falling out of favour. In addition, there was a youthful workforce and employees were willing to “go it on my own” or were opting not pay a union fee, maximising the amount of money they got in their pockets.

A graphic compiled by Group Five showed the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) suffered the biggest loss of union members at the company. NUM’s membership as a percentage of total unionised employees at Group Five dropped from 21 percent in 2009 to 11.86 percent this year despite increasing to 26 percent in 2011.

Group Five has been affected by 16 strikes so far this year, of which only two were legal, or protected.

Allie said there had been an increase in the number of strikes as workers, unions and communities demanded an “adjustment” to their wages to lift their standard of living.

He said that in the past wage increases were linked to the consumer price index. This change was the reason for the significant demands being placed on organisations in the bargaining environment.

Allie said Group Five would like to believe it had fared better than its competitors in the construction sector in regard to the number of strikes that affected the group.

Among the measures implemented by Group Five to reduce and manage strikes were that it had taken a proactive approach to managing strikes. It tried to prevent them from happening rather than responding only once they had begun.

Site managers were trained in basic industrial relations and specifically in strike handling and prevention. The number of industrial relations officers had been increased so it understood the issues that resulted in a strike.

Group Five encouraged the appointment of worker representatives so non-unionised workers had representation. It also tried to create an environment for dialogue between management and non-unionised workers.

Allie said the group’s headcount had increased this year to 13 719 employees from 10 846 last year after slumping from 14 050 employees in 2009 when contracts for the 2010 soccer World Cup were completed.

He said the group aimed to hire and train locally. - Business Report