LABOUR: Everybody Loses In Strikes
Recent Western Cape Business News
THERE is an urgent need to develop a more constructive approach to wage negotiations if we are to avoid another disastrous strike season, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m sure that if we analyse the results of the strike season we will see that they were all negative,” said Mr Michael Bagraim, President of the Chamber. “Workers lost wages, businesses lost production and saw their costs rising, property was destroyed and the unions lost face because they saw strikes collapse for lack of support.”
The strikes had damaged the economy and the reputation of the country. This discouraged investors and undermined growth and the net result was that new jobs were not created. “The biggest losers were the people we should care most about - the growing legions of the unemployed,” he said.
It was difficult to avoid concluding that negotiators were not listening to each other and that they were not prepared to see beyond their own short-term interests.
“One must ask what is behind the strikes? When we see a strike collapsing for lack of support, as was the case with the strike by municipal workers, we must ask who initiated the strike and why.”
He said the call to strike did not appear to come from the workers themselves who had committed themselves a three-year deal. The most likely explanation was that the initiative came from the union bosses who were looking for political leverage of some kind.
“Political games like this are actually an abuse of workers and of the right to strike. I wonder if we have not reached the stage where a ballot of all members of a union should be an essential requirement before a legal strike can take place,” Mr Bagraim said.
He pointed out that workers lost about two percent of annual wages for every week on strike. If a two-week strike resulted in a two percent increase, the workers would actually be worse off as two weeks of lost pay were equal to a four percent wage increase. Union bosses might claim a victory but the workers would have been better off if they had accepted the original offer. In the most recent strikes, workers had lost more in wages than they had gained from the increases. In effect they had taken a step backwards.
Mr Bagraim said it was essential to break the adversarial nature of negotiations and to look for ways to co-operate in order to improve productivity and create new jobs. This could lead to more business for the employers and more members for the union.
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