We’re only three months away from wishing each other a Happy Festive Season. In the meantime, we’re all ‘˜enjoying’ the Strike Season. Have you seen the headlines over the past month or so? ‘˜Strike season is here’. Yippee!!! Happy Strike Season! Whoop Whoop! But Whoa! Let’s stop and think on this for a second or two. The word ‘˜Season’ infers a recurring and expected occasion in time. Here in South Africa, we’ve just celebrated Spring Day heralding in the Summer Season.
It falls on the same day every year as a regular, expected occurrence. It also seems to coincide nowadays with the Strike Season and I have to ask: Is this what the labour relations situation in South Africa has come to? That strikes now have their own Season which we can predict and expect with yearly regularity? It certainly seems so , and it is bad, bad news for South Africa. Certainly the right to strike is enshrined in our Constitution but nowhere have I read that workers have an obligation to strike.
At the moment, well over 200 000 workers in various industry sectors are on strike. Workers in the gold mining sector belonging to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are on official strike with NUM demanding a 60% pay hike and employers offering 6,5%. Workers in the automotive sector have just entered the third week of a strike called by Numsa. This strike, according to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA), is costing the industry R700-million per day. Yes, you read correctly , R700- million per day, not per year! Some 30 000 or so workers are involved in the strike. Also on strike are the technical staff of South African Airways (SAA) who are affiliated to the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu). Oh yes, nearly forget, so too are some 90 000 workers in the construction sector. And then yesterday, workers at Johannesburg City Power went on strike over some disagreement on shift work or something. Who cares what it’s about? It’s the Jolly Strike Season. Let’s get in on the act. What we do know is that this strike left thousands of homes and businesses with no power. Worse, is that that the country’s much beloved former President, Nelson Mandela, who has just been moved to his home after spending three months in hospital, was without power last night. His house was running on a generator and some independent contractors then supplemented this by installing a huge generator in the street which switched the suburb’s lights back on. No-one is sure of the treatment Madiba is receiving but there may be some vital medical equipment which requires power to keep operating. If this is so, last night’s strike-induced power outage could well have killed Madiba!
What cloud are we living on in this country? Bitter infighting in the confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is causing havoc in the country with one of the results of the turmoil being that some of its member unions are losing support to new, rival unions. All these competing unions are now trying to capture members by demanding crazy high pay increases in a climate where companies are battling to survive, let alone grow. One of the new unions in the gold mining sector, AMCU, is demanding a 150% increase while NUM, as mentioned, is gunning for a 60% increase for entry level workers. Management is offering a 6.5% pay hike so in the case of NUM, the two parties are 53.5% apart while with AMCU, it’s a negotiation gap of 143.5%.
What planet are all these people living on? Don’t any of them read the newspapers? The global economic climate is dreadful and South Africa is living in a dream world if we think all this rubbish can go on without our growth prospects being severely affected. But hold on. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Enter Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema. In a statement issued after the Independent Electoral Commission approved the EFF as a registered political party, Malema heralded in his new party with the following: “The oppressed and exploited people of the world should now expect real anti-imperialist actions and political programme (sic) which will practically and programmatically undermine neoliberalism and global capitalism. (What the heck does that mean?) The EFF is fully aware of its obligations and responsibilities and will carry out those with military precision. These are obligations and the responsibility to equally redistribute South Africa and Africa’s wealth to the people as a whole. Land will be shared equitably amongst the people, mines will be nationalised, free quality education, healthcare and sanitation will be provided, the African economy will be developed, South Africa will be industrialised, State capacity will be built to perform own functions and corruption will be eliminated under EFF government.’ Oh my goodness!
Here’s the reality. As the Mail & Guardian recently pointed out, South Africa used to be the world’s largest gold producer. It no longer enjoys that position having dropped production from 68% in 1970 to 6% of the world’s total in 2012. As if that were not bad enough news, gold industry spokesperson, Charmane Russell, says that the gold sector now stands to lose 761 kgs in production each day, worth around $34-million (that’s R348,2-million a day) as a result of the current work stoppages. So Mr Malema, if things continue to go as they are, you won’t have to fight to nationalise the mines. They’ll just give them to you because they will be worthless. It happened to the coal industry in the UK. It can happen here.
Here’s some more reality. Compared to some of our current and potential trading partners, we’re a piddly little country at the bottom of Africa so why should the rest of the world put up with all this risk when they can safely invest their money in other countries and get a good return on it? I read somewhere one investor saying: “I don’t want a return on my money. I just want a return of my money.’ Just recently, a friend who works in a high position for an international management company told me that two of their big overseas clients , with many millions invested in South Africa – had instructed them to work on an exit strategy from South Africa. They’ve had enough. The risk has become too high. Even Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant sees the reality. “We are still reeling from the world economic meltdown and we need to get the country working as smoothly as possible to be able to get the economy to create the jobs we so desperately need,’ she said in a recent statement, urging for a quick end to the strikes.
Forget it Mrs Minister. South Africa is not creating jobs. We are destroying present and future jobs opportunities through the absolute folly that is dominating the labour and, I might add, the political scene. Here’s one immediate example. According to NAAMSA, new vehicle exports during August at 19 284 vehicles registered a decline of 5 740 units – or a fall of 22,9% compared to the 25 024 vehicles exported in August last year. NAAMSA attributes this decline to the current strike at the seven major manufacturing plants. Is that creating jobs? No!
As for our ability to create future jobs via increased investments into the country, NAAMSA has warned that one of the negative consequences of the current strike action is that it undermines South Africa’s status as a reliable supplier to international export markets and could well negatively affect future export contracts being awarded to South African automotive manufacturers. “Labour stability represents a key consideration in decisions by multinational corporations to allocate vehicles for production in South Africa. Unless the strike action is settled soon, the damage to future prospects and on foreign investment sentiment could be far reaching and take years to re-address.’
All this affects the trucking industry on all fronts for trucks operate in every sector of the economy. Take trucks sales as an example. “On-going labour disputes in the automotive sector and potential prolonged industry action at South African gold mines will have a definite impact on sales within the truck industry as its growth is closely linked to that of the economy in general,’ says Jacques Carelse, managing director of UD Trucks Southern Africa. “In addition, business confidence experienced a quarter-on-quarter decline of six points to 42, which will certainly affect truck sales adversely.’ There’s a knock on effect that impacts negatively all the way through the economy. Hauliers serving the strike-affected sectors will have parked off a lot of their trucks. Is that creating a climate for jobs? Again, the answer is no! It is money lost that can never be recovered.
South Africa is messing up and we need to get real so as to get back on track. The only problem is that this will require great, courageous and visionary leadership , and we don’t have that! Cry the beloved country.