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Five tips to avoid strikes in your company

  • marimac 

Staffing Solutions managing director, Arnoux Maré, says poor labour relations in South Africa can be directly linked to the low levels of trust between employers and employees. He shares some tips for avoiding strikes in the workplace. 

“Employees go on strike because they feel management hasn’t taken their interests to heart. Often, they feel they are being exploited. These feelings and management’s lack or rather perceived lack of response in addressing them then leads employees to be discontent with work,” Maré explains.

Employers believe violent strikes could become more frequent in the future, largely because of unions’ struggles to remain relevant.
Employers believe violent strikes could become more frequent in the future, largely because of unions’ struggles to remain relevant.

His comments come amid the ongoing plastic converters industry strike by 33 000 workers, which is turning out to be one of the most violent in years. The cost of the strike in terms of damage to property and lost production now exceeds R100-million.

In the plastics strike, one worker was murdered, several more hospitalised, three CEOs assaulted at their place of work and another died as a result of attacks on his factory. Hundreds more non-striking workers were assaulted at their residences, houses were burned down and 17 factories vandalised, petrol bombed or looted.

Employers believe strikes of this nature may be more frequent in the future, largely because of unions’ struggles to remain relevant. Unionised membership outside the public sector has decreased to below 20% following a peak of 26% over the past 20 years. Unions are therefore pressured to retain membership from the dwindling pool and may opt to resort to desperate measures to retain current membership levels.

With national unemployment figures hovering at 27.2%, trade unions are fighting to protect members whose jobs are most vulnerable to replacement by low-skilled entrants. Workers themselves are also faced with challenges such as economic pressures, which makes them more susceptible to (what some might deem) desperate measures such as strike action.

In its annual strike analysis in July last year, the Department of Labour reported an 8% increase in strikes between 2016 and 2017, with an increase in the number of working days lost from 946 323 in 2016 to 960 899 in 2017.

“It is regrettable that when strikes take place some turn violent, as it does not serve the protesting employees, who later may be fired for a host of criminal reasons including destruction of property, assault, intimidation, or violence,” Maré says. He adds with the right channels of communication made available to both employer and employees, industrial action can be avoided.

Here are Maré’s top five tips on building better trust relations between employer and employee.

 1. Communication

The power of communication cannot be underestimated. Getting to the root of issues and addressing challenges head-on goes a long way towards improving relations with employees. Too often, employers bury their heads in the sand or become fearful about communicating – this is serious error which can have far-reaching, negative implications.

 2. Continuous training

It is important to conduct regular training to ensure employees are properly equipped to do the job they were hired to do. The more employees feel they are valued and that the company is investing in their growth, the more positive they feel about being at work.

 3. Operational management

While companies do not need to divulge operational secrets to their employees, it is important they are kept in the loop about the company’s vision and mission. This way, everyone understands what the business hopes to achieve and can work towards those common goals.

4. Motivation

It is important to keep employees’ motivated, be this through monetary or other incentives. There is nothing more affirming than being acknowledged for exceptional performance. Employers are often too quick to point out staff’s shortcomings and are slow to recognise their achievements. This is the fastest way to create an unhappy and undervalued workforce.

5. Work environment

Employers need to adhere to Occupational Health and Safety regulations and create a safe work environment for their employees. Employees need to feel supported as well. They need to know their immediate superior will take their issues seriously and escalate them if necessary. After all, a happy and satisfied labour force is more productive and less likely to strike, concludes Maré.