Business 15.8.2016 06:13 am

More strikes could equal a downgrade

Johannesburg Roads Agency workers trash the streets outside the JRA offices burning rubbish during an unprotected strike, 24 February 2016. The employees, represented by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) said they were promised a pay increase last year but have stil not received anything. Picture: Michel Bega

Johannesburg Roads Agency workers trash the streets outside the JRA offices burning rubbish during an unprotected strike, 24 February 2016. The employees, represented by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) said they were promised a pay increase last year but have stil not received anything. Picture: Michel Bega

Developments in this year’s strike season could spell a ‘national disaster’ if employers and unions can’t prevent further action, well-known labour expert Andrew Levy has predicted.

Last week, Telkom staff launched strike action against the telecoms provider. The dispute between the state-owned entity (SOE) and the Community Workers’ Union stems from a failure between the two to agree over wages. The strike comes after another SOE, Eskom, narrowly averted a strike at the hands of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), following marathon negotiations last week.

The power producer also faced a strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which downed tools last Monday but was forced back to work after Eskom obtained a court interdict.

Levy warned that neither Eskom nor workers could afford a protracted strike.

“This could become a national disaster, not because of NUM or Numsa, but it could be if the white collar unions …”

He said further strikes in industries such as mining and oil refineries could lead to job cuts and further downgrades for the country.

“We already have two strikes in the public sector [Telkom and Eskom]. If there is a third one in the mining sector, for instance, then we can kiss our grading goodbye.

And we can kiss billions in foreign investment goodbye.”

Mentioning the oil refinery sector as a possible weak point for unions to negotiate higher wages, he said these strikes could also backfire on workers.

“Obviously, the Achilles heel would be the distribution side of things. But to date, it seems employers have a contingency plan in place,” Levy said. “This is a strike that is very hard for the unions to win.”

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