When the rules of engagement are rewritten, protagonists must adapt or they lose relevance. South Africa’s economic seesaw is teetering in favour of the school-yard bully.
Militant inter-union tension, tantamount to a declaration of war and fought in mine-shafts around the country, is a significant change of emphasis beyond the usual wage-negotiation techniques the investment world has become accustomed to. That’s particularly pertinent at this time of the year when wage-negotiation plays an important role in local media headlines. Freedom of association and collective bargaining is one thing; violence and intimidation is another animal altogether. When unions, motivated by membership revenue, resort to intimidation and violence, then by definition, the legitimacy of collective bargaining, a concept entrenched in law, becomes forfeit. Against this economic anarchy is the equal and opposite force imposed by a mature society which demands the moral legitimacy imposed by law and order. Law and order requires a reciprocal political will to succeed.
As an interim measure, whilst the broader labour complexities are addressed, corporate South Africa must address the productivity risk associated with labour unrest. In South Africa’s mining industry, where operational security is broadly at risk from external pressures imposed by organised labour, mitigating that risk justifies a moral departure in the boardroom and more expenditure on mechanisation. The subsequent socio-economic consequences of an inactive workforce is a risk to the political status quo the country simply can’t afford. Given South Africa’s reliance on the mining industry as a whole, protecting that industry is, therefore, essential to the country’s economic and social fabric.
It’s time collective-bargaining revisits its roots and returns to the negotiating table in its legitimate form. The alternative is unimaginable.