Pretoria – Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant says South Africa needs to find a solution for the seemingly failing labour bargaining structure.

“Government, unions and business have an important role to play in order to maintain a stable labour force and fair labour practices that will attract investors and inspire economic growth in the long run,” said Minister Oliphant.

She was responding to the Industrial Action Report 2013, which shows an increase in strike incidents from 2012 to 2013.

The report, launched on Friday by the Minister, shows a rise in strikes from 99 in 2012 to 114 in 2013. A total of R6.7 billion in wages was lost due to the participation of workers in strikes, compared to R6.6 billion in 2012.

The strike-related information analysed is based on information supplied by employers in the Labour Relations Act Forms 9.2, after a strike incident ends in a work place.

The report is based on strike analysis in the last 12 months of 2013.

Minister Oliphant said the findings do not attempt to report extensively on the current industrial disputes in the country in 2014.

“This is because some of the strikes that my department has identified have not been

concluded, and information is not yet processed in the department strike database. However, a five-year analysis from 2009 to 2013 is provided to show the impact of industrial action on the labour market and the economy in general.”

Working days lost decrease

While an increase in the number of strikes was recorded, the report finds that working days lost between 2012 (3 309 884 strikes) and 2013 (1 847 006 strikes) decreased by 44.2%.

As it has been the trend in the past, the report noted that wages was still the main reason for workers to go on strike.  As the cost of living keeps rising due to multiple factors, workers will probably continue to strive for decent wages.

To address the issue of reducing strike incidents linked to wage demands, Minister Oliphant said: “Possibilities of increasing minimum wages to address poverty and inequality, and to expand the provision for retirement savings for low income workers will come into sharp focus in the future.” 

On average, 22.3% of work stoppages lasted from 11 to 20 days in 2012, compared to 2013, where 40.8% of work stoppages lasted from 11 to 20 days, the report has shown.

However, in the mining industry, union rivalry between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) continued to stretch the wage negotiations and also fuel the strikes and stall production.

“In all cases, wage agreements reached were below the initial demand, followed by other negative employment trends such as job losses in the mining sector in 2013.

“By industry, the community, social and personal services industry was mostly affected by strike incidents in 2012 and 2013, followed by mining and manufacturing.

“Few strikes were recorded in the finance and utilities industries in both periods,” said the report.

It also shows that out of 114 strikes in 2013, 42% versus 58% were protected strikes. However in 2012, the Department of Labour recorded more protected strikes at 54.5% of 99 strikes.

By trade union, the findings show that 25.2% of the total workdays lost in 2013 (1 847 006) were recorded in the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), followed by NUM (17.4%) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) at 16.3%.

This was unlike in 2012, where NUM and AMCU had more member participation in strikes. This, according to the report, might imply that more workers, who were involved in strikes, came from these unions.

North West, Gauteng most affected

By province, the report indicates that the North West (48.5%) and Gauteng (41.5%) were the two provinces most affected regarding wages lost due to strikes in 2013.

On average, South Africa recorded the highest annual average of 292.6 working days lost per 1 000 workers during the period 2005 - 2009. It was the highest compared to other international countries over the same period. –