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How can we stop the current labour unrest?

Frew Murdoch

Labour unrest

After the platinum industry's main trade union served notice of its intention to strike on the world's top three platinum producers, on Monday 20 January finance minister Pravin Gordhan said that the South African economy can’t afford more labour unrest. Now - a month later - the situation still hasn’t improved with labour unrest in the sector still rife. What is the solution?

I recently spoke with Mxolisi Manyakanyaka, Executive Manager (Corporate Services) at Trade and Investment KZN, about how we can move on from this sorry state of affairs. Mxolisi recently gave a presentation on the current economic trends and labour unrest at the Institute of People Management’s (IPM) KZN branch breakfast discussion forum entitled, “2014: What’s in Store for South Africa”(A study conducted by SACCI). With this welcome revelation, I contacted him looking for possible solutions to the labour unrest.

What is needed to solve the current labour unrest crisis in South Africa?

In response, Mxolisi suggested focusing on, for example :

  • Productivity, and
  • Line manager training.


You may ask, “How does productivity tie in with labour unrest?” Mxolisi believes labour unrest and strike action could be kept to a minimum if employers were more productive and proactive in their communication and relations with trade unions and employees.

At the moment, it seems that trade unions and employers only really interact around the time of year which is earmarked for wage negotiations. For example, with regard to the strike action at the top platinum mines in SA there are updates broadcast on a daily basis.

Mxolisi proposes that one way of limiting mining houses’ costs and improving mine workers’ productivity would be to increase communication between mine management and trade unions:

  • Instead of making the once-a-year wage negotiations such a big deal, mine management should be organising regular contact sessions between the trade unions and management.
  • Allowing the mineworkers into these sessions will allow for better communication and let management in on the workers’ feelings and thoughts on operations.

Line manager training

Mxolisi emphasises the need for line managers to show they care for their employees and for this they need to be properly empowered as they have a huge responsibility as role models to the labourers who in turn have control over the bottom-line results. Line managers need to understand workers’ issues and how to respond to these in kind. By properly educating line managers, the workers they manage – as well as themselves – are empowered.

A healthy mind leads to a healthy body and similarly, healthy leaders result in a healthier workforce. At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships and line managers need to be aware of this so they can optimise their relationships with those who they manage.

Frew Murdoch is the assistant editor of HR Pulse. She has a BA degree in communications and English and a passion for HR technology.

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