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How to prevent strikes from happening too frequently

4 March 2015

There is, unfortunately, no short term answer to this dilemma.

A decent living wage for your staff must be the objective for any responsible employer. However, what happened to workers responsibility to produce good work at an acceptable level of productivity?

We have written before about the polarization of the construction industry. Where there is mistrust between the employer bodies, the professional organizations and the contractors. There is a perception amongst employer bodies that workers best interests are not being looked after by contractors. Hence the appearance of Project Labour Agreements such as those imposed at the Eskom contracts. These, in this commentators opinion, cause more harm than good. They undermine the contractors ability to manage his workforce and create unrealistic and unreasonable anticipations in the workers. When these expectations are not met the result is a strike.

It must also be true to say that remuneration levels at the lower end of the skill scale have not kept up with the cost of living that has run away from the control of the government largely due to falling Rand values and increases in fuel prices. Unions appear to have been fooled (generally by misstatements by the reserve bank and government) into thinking that the inflation was under control and that an annual adjustment of between 5 and 7,5% was an adequate increase when nearer 15% would have been more the order of the day. Hence the erosion of workers spending power and the rise in more militant unions.

Maybe all these things are just symptoms of a more sinister problem. Firstly that capitalism in the African environment where the wealth of the nation is concentrated in the hands of a few people. That it appears to be governments policy to enrich a select band of cohorts who will join the fortunate few. Further the, what appear to be, obscene remuneration packages that top executives reward them selves with.

The knee jerk reaction to these issues is to suggest nationalization of major industry and the mines and the adoption of a more socialist government model. Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying that “the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of the miseries”, lets hope we don’t have to test this observation by personal experience!

What has happened to the Construction Industry is that wage levels and conditions of employment have become institutionalized. That is that the industry waits almost cap in hand awaiting the out come of the annual wage negotiations, these days invariably accompanied by a strike. The system therefore appears impersonalized and this just reinforces the mistrust and polarization between construction company management and the work force. This is the crux of the issue.

We need to get back to creating personal relationships with each of our workers. They need to be recognized as valuable human beings and that their involvement in the organization is vital to the success of the company. Everyone should have a career path and a means of moving up the ladder. We should reward good work, integrity and recognize by personal interaction the contribution that everyone makes from the lowliest to the highest echelon of worker.

We shouldn’t and can’t deny a persons access to collective bargaining but by rewarding people’s personal efforts and contribution regardless of what the industry minimum wage is, we should strive to making resorting to union intervention to give someone a reasonable remuneration unnecessary.

Lets ask our selves a simple question; is everyone’s job in my organization worth keeping? If you are honest you will admit that most of your workers would rather do something else if it was available. There’s your yardstick. Give your people dignity and a job worth fighting for and my bet is we wont have any need for strikes.