Over 2.8m Working Days Lost in 2011
South Africa lost more than 2.8 million working days to strikes in 2011, a labour department official said in Pretoria on Wednesday.
However, work stoppages in 2011 were dramatically down from the more than 20.7 million days lost in the previous year, deputy director general Les Kettledas said at the release of the Annual Industrial Action Report for 2011.
"There were 20,674,737 working days lost in 2010," Kettledas told reporters.
In 2011, this dropped to 2,806,656 working days -- a decline of 636 percent.
Working days lost are calculated using the number of workers taking part in a strike action or lockout, multiplied by the length of the stoppage. For example, in a strike involving 2,000 workers lasting three days, 6,000 working days are lost.
The number of strikes in 2011 declined to 67, from 74 in 2010.
In 2009, there were 51, and 57 in 2008.
Labour department director general Nkosinathi Nhleko said employers and employees should take responsibility for avoiding industrial action.
"Negotiation skills are quite essential, in terms of honing them. Employers and employees have a duty to negotiate in good faith," he said.
"Above that, in that negotiation process, both have the duty to ensure that they have the required skills as well as [skills] to exercise leadership."
Nhleko said it was in the best interests of employers and employees to settle disputes within a limited timeframe.
"A strike action has to be understood as being the last resort. It's used to influence movement at the ongoing negotiations. I don't think there is any party which wants a dispute to last longer.
"If a strike action lasts beyond five days, it becomes unsustainable from different angles. It not only induces fatigue on the employees, but there are lost wages which begin to take their toll."
Nhleko said protracted strikes harmed the economy by disrupting production.
In 2011, around R1.07 billion in wages was lost due to work stoppages, according to the report. Lost wages in 2010 amounted to R407m.
The large disparity in wages lost between the two years was related to the salaries of the strikers. In 2011 more people earning higher wages went on strike.
The absence of a public sector strike in 2011 was attributed to the decline in working days lost that year.
"In 2010 there was a sharp increase in the number of days lost because of the public sector strike. Those 20.6m days lost were a result of public servants who took part in the strike," said Nhleko.
According to the report, the number of employers who locked out employees during strikes remained the same between 2010 and 2011.
The 2011 report noted that due to rising costs of food, electricity and transport, workers demanded double-digit wage increases, above the country's inflation rate.
The labour department releases an annual report on industrial action. The information is used by lawmakers as a measure of decent work, and for an indication of work trends within the country. The business fraternity, particularly private investors, also use it.
Employers had a legal obligation to report industrial action, and the labour department had its own media monitoring programme.