The recent spate of strike action in the motor industry followed by the decision by BMW not to pursue its consideration to build a second plant in South Africa should serve as a wake-up call to all South Africans to start thinking differently.
Each year the whole country holds its breath as we experience wave after wave of destruction caused by strike action. This spectacular destruction seems to be on the increase and leadership to turn things around is ever absent.
The closest someone has come to a suggested solution to the problem is, Vic van Vuuren, director/head of mission of the International Labour Organisation, when he suggested in a recent statement that collective bargaining in our country should be reviewed.
Collective bargaining is currently characterised by inferior preparation by the respective parties and far too little effort to explore all avenues to secure agreements for a win-win situation. The outcomes of negotiation sessions appear to be pre-determined, resulting in the declaration of disputes at a very early stage, followed by eventual strike action.
Issues for negotiation agendas are limited to demands for increases and improved conditions of employment on the workers side and increased productivity and cuts in labour costs by the employers. This has become an ingrained behaviour among the parties, causing them to become more and more protectionist.
Parties need to read again what the Labour Relations Act (LRA) says about the role and functions of bargaining councils. While we tend to focus on negotiating better wages and conditions of employment, section 28(h) suggests that parties should also engage each other on policy and legislation of a particular sector.
UASA, having been involved in a number of bargaining councils, has seldom been part of such discussions. This provision of the LRA seems to suggest that parties should engage on more developmental issues of a particular sector, how it can be grown, more employment opportunities, challenges, etc. It would intimate parties should engage each other on different issues, using a different language aimed at building the sector, rather that breaking it down.
While strike action seems to have become an annual institution, with the economy held to ransom and the government facing a growing chorus of criticism from across the political spectrum over inter alia strikes, inflexible labour laws and a sharp slowdown in its infrastructure roll-out, parties should unearth the developmental values of bargaining councils and raise the level of debate to come up with sector solutions for the economy.
Statement issued by UASA spokesperson André Venter, October 10 2013
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