Try to solve disputes before it is too late

The recent strikes at Pick ‘n Pay and South African Airways illustrate the damage that they can cause

Try to solve disputes before it is too late


By: Ivan Israelstam
Chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting.


Source: This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on August 01, 2005

The recent strikes at Pick ‘n Pay and South African Airways illustrate the damage that they can cause.

The workers in both cases have lost pay due to absence from work and the employers have lost business. The country’s economy has become an extremely competitive one and losing business to a competitor is a serious blow.

While Pick ‘n Pay and SAA are big enough to survive the damage caused by the strike, smaller businesses could go under as a result of industrial action.

When this happens to a little known business we do not usually hear about it because it is not considered newsworthy.

Nevertheless, the shutting down of a business spells disaster for everyone concerned. It is for this reason that employers and employees alike need to know how to deal with conflict and strikes.

In the interests of averting the potential disaster that strikes can cause, the parties need to understand the following aspects of industrial action:

  • What constitutes a strike in legal terms: A strike is any concerted withholding of labour by a group of employees in support of a demand made by them to the employer.
  • The economic effects of a strike for both parties: The employer is likely to lose money due to delayed service to clients or to lost production time. The employees will lose their pay due to the no work, no pay principle. If the strikers are dismissed they will lose their livelihoods altogether.
  • The effects of a strike on the employment relationship: Once the strike is over, even if the business has not been closed down by it, the feelings of hostility resulting from the strike can severely damage teamwork, productivity and profitability.
  • How to resolve constructively the conflict that causes industrial action: Before the conflict gets to the stage of impasse that results in a strike, the parties need to utilise the services of an expert in conflict resolution.

The CCMA was set up with the purpose of helping the parties to resolve conflict peacefully. However, in practice, the warring parties too often go to the CCMA because the law says they must rather than in a sincere attempt to sort out their differences.

In other words, by the time the parties end up at the CCMA the conflict is often beyond the point of no return.

For this reason, during times of industrial peace, employers and employees should identify and agree upon the use of a trained and reputable conflict resolution expert to be called in when the parties are unable to solve the problem themselves.

How to behave during a strike – Employees should remember that any misconduct during a strike is still subject to discipline. Therefore they should avoid damage to property, intimidation, disrupting of business and acts of violence.

Employers should avoid provoking the anger of strikers in order to prevent the escalation of the conflict.

How to minimise the damage caused by a strike – Employees should allow the business to continue to run in order to avert the likelihood of a closure that could result in job losses.

Employers should use the services of a reputable labour broker who can provide alternative labour during the strike. Both parties should behave in a civil and professional manner towards each other.

How to bring a strike to a speedy end – Where the parties are unable to find common ground they should not delay in bringing in the services of their mutually agreed strike resolution expert.

An expert in this field will not only have techniques of bringing the parties together but will also be able to see solutions that the emotions of the parties have prevented them from seeing.

The expert should also be able to help the parties rebuild their relationship once the strike is over.

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