File photo: Bheki Radebe/ANA Pictures

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Labour warned yesterday that frequent strikes were harming the economy and the labour force. 

In its latest Industrial Action Report, the department said the labour market had lost 946 323 working days as a result of 122 work stoppages last year. 

This was a 4.7% increase compared with 2015, when 903 921 working days were lost, according to the report. 

In term of wages lost, the labour economy had lost about R161m as a result of work stoppages in 2016, up from R116m in 2015. 

Most of the stoppages had been caused by wage, bonus and other compensation-related demands, the report said. More work stoppages had taken place during “strike season” in the second and third quarters of the year, when wages were negotiated. 

Of the nine provinces, those where relatively high-performance economic activities were located - Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal - had experienced more strikes in all four quarters of 2016. 

A total of 90228 workers had been involved in labour disputes in 2016, the lowest figure since strike records were captured in 2013, the report said. 

To reduce strikes over wage demands, the department said the possibility of increasing minimum wages to address poverty and expanding the provision of retirement savings for low-income workers could become issues in the future. The report emphasised concerns about the logic of pursuing strike action to the point where it damaged workers’ interests.

South Africa needed to fix its seemingly faltering bargaining structure, the report said. Market analysts have said the country needs to avoid a repeat of last year’s deadly strikes.