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Strike activity drops to levels last seen in 2014

  • marimac 

There were 86 strikes last year, most of them wage-related, writes Ciaran Ryan.

Strike Barometer 2022. Image credit: Casual Workers Advice Office
Strike Barometer 2022. Image credit: Casual Workers Advice Office

There are a few interesting, albeit small, categories in the 2022 strike barometer: protests against assassinations, load shedding and corruption.

A study by the Casual Workers Advice Office shows strike activity falling to levels last seen in 2014, most of them related to wages and related issues. Its Strike Barometer 2022 shows there were 86 strikes in 2022, of which 51 were wage-related. The strike total for 2022 is 27% lower than 2020 and 48% lower than 2018. The second-highest cause of strikes in 2022 (19 out of a total of 86) related to the demand for permanent employment.

“The actual demand for permanent employment by casual or labour-broker workers is higher than this because this barometer has not included the number of pickets and workplace-related actions held by casual workers in the official number of strikes (for example, where casual workers picketed at a workplace when they were off-duty or after the contract of the labour broker who hired them had been terminated,” states the study.

Some 48 strikes were ‘protected’ and 38 ‘unprotected’, which is a reversal of prior years when unprotected strikes exceeded the number of protected strikes. A protected strike is one that complies with the Labour Relations Act (LRA), meaning workers are protected from dismissal for strike activity. An unprotected strike is one where the requirements of the LRA are not met and strikers are not protected from dismissal.

A ‘wildcat strike’ is one where strike action is carried out without the support of the trade union, and generally does not follow LRA procedures. A total of 26 of the 38 wildcat strikes were in the public sector. Some 17 of the 38 unprotected strikes were by non-unionised workers. “This goes somewhat against the pattern of recent years, which have witnessed a growing proportion of strikes by such workers,” states the barometer.

‘Crassly anti-working class’ reports

The Casual Workers Advice Office says although the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) produces an annual industrial action report, “[T]hese reports are consistently and crassly anti-working class, and do not register the significance of strikes from a movement building perspective.”

The barometer is based on the DEL reports, which are based on information supplied by employers, as well as trade union websites, WhatsApp groups and other sources. It says there may be more strikes than reported in the barometer, particularly short strikes by non-unionised workers.

By far the main reasons for the strikes were demands for improved wages and benefits, as well as demands for permanent jobs and unpaid bonuses. But there are a few interesting (albeit small) categories: protests against assassinations, load shedding and corruption.

The barometer says 17 workers were either “[A]ssassinated while organising a strike, shot dead by private security hired by bosses during a strike, shot and injured by police or private security, or beaten, petrol bombed or had their property damaged.”

Among the biggest strikes were:

  • Sibanye-Stillwater, where 31 000 workers held out for a 6% increase and other benefits. A compromise was struck with some unions. More than 2 000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) workers camped outside the Union Buildings in May, which appears to have prompted the company to settle.
  • University of SA, where 5 000 workers went on strike for failing to receive promised wage and benefits increases.
  • Taxi and food delivery drivers from Uber, Bolt, DiDi and inDrive held a three-day strike in March, switching off their apps in protest against the companies deducting 25% to 26% commission from every trip. Drivers demanded a flat 10% deduction.
  • In April, farm workers and community members went on strike, blockading roads and setting fire to commercial farms’ equipment buildings and citrus trees in Sunday’s River Valley in the Eastern Cape, demanding a minimum wage of R30 per hour at all businesses in the town, as well as for street lights, water and tarred roads.
  • Security guards from the Departments of Social Development and Correctional Services in North West went on strike in May after going unpaid for three months.
  • In June, workers at nine Eskom power stations went on a wildcat strike and blocked nearby roads over failed wage negotiations. The strike ended when workers agreed to having their unions represent them at the Central Bargaining Forum, a sector-wide body set up to agree on pay and working conditions.
  • In July, South African Revenue Service (Sars) workers went on strike, shutting 18 Sars offices across the country in protest at being offered a 1.39% wage increase. The strike was suspended on 8 August when unions said they would return to the negotiating table.
  • In August, about 450 Joburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) workers closed the M2 in both directions in Johannesburg and blocked the highway for the day. This was in protest at the city’s failure to fulfil a 2016 promise to increase the salaries of those who had been working for JMPD for more than 13 years.
  • In October, Transnet workers began a strike after rejecting the company’s offer of a 1.5% pay increase and a once-off taxable payment of R10 000. Workers demanded 12% to 13%. About 48 000 or 80% of the 56 000 Transnet workers joined the strike, which was settled by the middle of October.