Clash between true liberal values and socialist demands for disproportionate differentials. Some years ago a trade union settled a dispute with the employer by agreeing to accept a substantial lump-sum in full and final settlement of all disputes concerning the termination of employment of nearly 1,000 of its former members. The trade union divided the money equally between its members. The members who had been earning more objected and insisted they were entitled to receive a greater share of the spoils. The present strike at Xstrata involves the same issue. The employees are insisting that management share part of the profits equally and not according to actual income differentials. A typical clash between true liberals (who favour individual rights) and socialists who are usually in the majority in any community.

Business Day today has an editorial Trade unions and gift horse and argues that the present strike is an example of how ‘completely off the wall the trade unions have become’.

It must be remembered that the right to strike belongs not to a trade union but the employees. Trade unions depend on the subscriptions of their members and must do as they are told by the majority of the members. Is it not the demands of the socialists that are ‘off the wall’ and not the trade unions?

Protected strikes are immune from interference by any court, including the labour court, and the power-play must continue until the dispute is resolved. That means the employer must concede to the demands or the strike must be called off by the employees. The law allows employers to terminate the employment of employees who are on a protected strike provided the statutory procedures are following and there is a fair reason based on the employer’s operational requirements.

Before resorting to such drastic action perhaps Xstrata should consider withdrawing its offer to share part of its profits.

With the kind permission of Business Day here are some extracts from the editorial but it is suggested that the entire editorial be viewed or downloaded by clicking on the heading or going to Business Day itself.

“As an illustration of how completely off the wall trade unions have become, there are few better examples than the current Xstrata strike. This description is not confined to those affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, but includes Solidarity and some of the newer unions”.

“The Xstrata situation demonstrates that no good deed on the South African shop floor goes unpunished. The story briefly goes like this: at the request of trade unions, management were asked to consider a profit-sharing scheme”.

“Xstrata has already achieved its required 24% black empowerment targets and is consequently under no obligation to consider any further workforce handouts. However, they agreed to a scheme to distribute 3% of local profits”.

“The company’s original proposal was to distribute profits in proportion to salary levels in 14 bands. The unions, mainly the National Union of Mineworkers and Solidarity, demanded an equal distribution”.

“The company’s argument is that proportionality is its international practice. But in order to meet the unions halfway, it reduced the number of bands to three, and reduced the difference between the bands. In the final proposal, the bottom band would get about 55% of what the top band would get”.

“It’s worth noting that this was the only remaining point of difference. Many other aspects had been agreed, including how the money would be managed and, amazingly, an interest-free loan scheme so that workers could take advantage of the bonsella immediately. However, in spite of this Xstrata was hit by a strike because unions could not bring themselves to accept a generous gift offered by a company which had invested R60bn in SA”.

“By going on strike, they have upped the ante and risked depriving their members of much-needed extra cash. And in the process they have made South African mining look ludicrous”.