Eskom workers picket outside Megawatt Park in Sunninghill against a 0% wage increase, on June 14 2018. Picture: TIMES LIVE/PENWELL DLAMINI
Eskom workers picket outside Megawatt Park in Sunninghill against a 0% wage increase, on June 14 2018. Picture: TIMES LIVE/PENWELL DLAMINI

SA workers lost R266m in salaries in 2018 in support of their demands for better wages and improved working conditions, an industrial action report released on Wednesday revealed.

The strike monitoring report is compiled by the department of labour and employment. The department’s director for labour market information and statistics unit, Abrahams Mutedi, said the report for 2019 will be released in March.

The damaging effect of strikes on the local economy forced the government to pass the strike ballot legislation that came into effect in January 2019, requiring a secret ballot before unions embark on strike. The unions were given six months to amend their constitutions to include the clause, but have dismissed the legislation, saying it removes their democratic right to strike.

The report states that the number of working days lost as a result of the 165 strikes recorded in 2018 was 1,158,945, representing an increase of 20.7% compared to the 960,489 working days lost from 132 strikes in 2017.

The industries most affected by the strikes were community [services], which lost 303,119 working days as a result of the 77 strikes in the sector; followed by the manufacturing sector, which had 23 strikes (227,040 working days lost); and the trade sector with 21 work stoppages (180,588 days lost).

The transport sector employees were the biggest losers, parting ways with R131m in wages in 2018.

The report stated that from 2014 to 2018 the demand for better wages, bonuses and other compensation benefits, and grievances lodged against employers and unpleasant working conditions, were the main reasons workers took industrial action.

Labour analyst Michael Bagraim said it’s understandable why there were so many strikes in 2018, which he described as a “horrific year” for labour relations.

“The economy was not growing and employers were not offering double-digit wage increases, which the unions were used to, so they went on strikes,” said Bagraim. “But we had a good change in our labour laws in 2019 with the introduction of the secret ballot and that the labour minister can intervene if a strike is non-functional, not serving its purpose, and is damaging to the economy.”

Bagraim said because of the damaging nature of the 2018 strikes to the economy, this forced the government to introduce the changes in the labour legislation.

“I think we are still, to this day, suffering from the effects of those strikes. They led to a whole series of retrenchments where lots of employers opted to mechanise, computerise and outsource. Those strikes destroyed our manufacturing industry. It’s very sad because we don’t need a jobless growth [but] that’s what those strikes have forced [on] us.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za