SKILLED, private sector workers accounted for most work stoppages last year and lost a record R1bn in wages, says the Department of Labour’s industrial action report for 2011.
Because wage settlements were relatively peacefully negotiated in the public sector last year, the private sector accounted for most industrial action.
A surge in the cost of the work stoppages — up from about R407m in 2010 — indicated that highly paid, skilled workers had downed tools. They lost more than R1bn in wages when the "no work, no pay" principle was applied.
"The amount surpasses any figure that has been reported before. It might happen that more ‘skilled workers’, who are paid better wages, had also downed tools during 2011," the report read.
Work stoppages included action by employees such as strikes, or by employers, such as lockouts.
The private sector lost more than 2.5-million working days last year due to stoppages, compared to just more than 200,000 days in the public sector.
Work days lost were calculated by multiplying the number of workers involved in stoppages by the duration of the action. "Since a no work, no pay principle is applied for periods that workers are not at their work stations, the figure is an indication that employees are prepared to lose huge amounts of money in the fight for a cause they believe in," the report read.
But the number of strikes last year decreased to 67 from 74 in 2010. The
number of work days lost decreased from about 20.6-million in 2010 to about 2.8-million last year.
More than half of the work stoppages last year were longer than in 2010, with 52.3% lasting between six and 10 days. In 2010, 44.3% of stoppages lasted this long.
The public sector is set for a relatively peaceful period after unions signed a three-year wage agreement with the government this week.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions welcomed the agreement on Wednesday, saying it indicated workers were "as united as ever". The settlement was agreed to by all public service unions. The local government sector also concluded wage talks without industrial action this year, after it had abandoned a three week-long strike last year.
Last year, the South African Local Government Association failed to accede to union demands of an 18% wage hike — which was reduced to 10% after negotiations.
The strike — which left uncollected rubbish littering streets in big cities and the South African Municipal Workers Union facing charges relating to damag ed property — had a minimal effect as it failed to attract support from workers, the labour department’s report said.
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