These extracts are from John Brand’s important article.

The  article first appeared in Business Day today – Industrial relations – Break the vicious cycle of violent, lose-lose strike action.

John Brand is a collective bargaining and dispute-resolution specialist at Bowman Gilfillan. Business Day has kindly consented to extracts and a link being provided on GilesFiles.

In seven out of the eight strikes, workers lost more in wages than they gained as a result of the strike.

If SA is to extricate itself from this lose- lose situation, it needs to realise it has a collective bargaining crisis on its hands.

South African negotiation and mediation skills also need to be reassessed.

Often, negotiators negotiate in a highly adversarial way, which is characteristic of a previous age, and mediators simply act as messengers between them. There is an almost total absence of joint problem-solving and a search for mutual-gain outcomes. A typical mind-set of union and management is one in which they view each other as ideological enemies rather than as partners with many overlapping interests as well as divergent ones. There is an assumption of a “fixed pie” that must be divided in a win- lose way by the use of cunning and force. There is no serious endeavour to expand the pie by improving efficiency and productivity and then sharing that pie more equitably. Negotiators do virtually no risk analysis before industrial action and so often find themselves in losing situations they could have avoided.

Few strikes were preceded by proper ballots and many had questionable levels of support. Not only does SA’s labour legislation fail to provide appropriate structures for collective bargaining, it also fails to provide adequate regulation for industrial democracy, good-faith bargaining and peaceful strikes and picketing. The country, therefore, needs to consider radical legislative reform to bolster collective bargaining and the proper use of the right to strike.

If SA wants to get itself out of its collective- bargaining crisis, it must accept it is in a crisis and needs to take drastic action.

Many countries have wrestled with similar problems and have found ways of overcoming them. SA can learn from these experiences and it has the expertise to diagnose the problems and to find appropriate solutions for them. Win-win is a possibility. The country does not have to let one violent, lose-lose strike season follow the other as though it were an act of nature.

If it does not act soon and effectively, the precious institution of collective bargaining and the vital right to strike, which are essential for the survival of a market economy, will be in jeopardy.