South Africa last year has lost more working days through strike action than any other country in the world. File photo: AP/Andres Kudacki

Durban - South Africa last year lost more working days through strike action than any other country in the world, bar Canada, but the figures from this year were expected to be worse.

In 2011, there were 67 strikes and 2 806 656 working days were lost.

“This year, there is no doubt that this figure will increase significantly as will the number of strikes,” said Irvin Lawrence, of law firm, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, at its employment law seminar in Durban on Thursday.

He pointed out that since the strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, there have been more spontaneous strikes initiated by employees themselves instead of the unions.

According to the statistics from the Department of Labour’s annual industrial report, 1998 had the highest number of strikes, at 527, losing 3.8 million days.

But, in 2010, the country lost a record 20 674 737 working days with just over a million employees involved in 74 strikes.

Lawrence said a trend in the past was that as unionisation decreased, the number of strikes increased. This, he said, was as a result of a rise in unprotected strike action.

A protected strike is when all the requirements of the Labour Relations Act are met before the start of strike action and employees are protected from being dismissed for breach of contract.

Failure to comply with the act could result in employees being fired for misconduct or breach of contract.

“Presently, that landscape is changing with unprotected strikes taking place spontaneously and with fewer strikes being orchestrated by unions.

“The irony is that the liability the courts have imposed on unions has perhaps contributed to the perception that they [the unions] are weak,” Lawrence said.

With unions being held liable by the courts, Lawrence said the established ones were more cautious and did not rush through negotiations.

“The newer unions appeal to employees. They have grassroots popularity,” he said.

Further, Lawrence spoke about unions’ liability to members.

He said the courts had, as recently as this year, accepted that unions may be liable to their members for damages suffered by them.

“A threat of violence may cause all around to sit up and take notice. However, the Constitutional Court has laid down the law – unions may be accountable for damage during strikes,” Lawrence concluded. - Daily News