Could Shorter Strikes Be In South Africa’s Future?

Could Shorter Strikes Be In South Africa’s Future?

Strikes in South Africa’s platinum, gold and auto industries have severely hurt the economy, but new powers — and cash — for the country’s dispute resolution body could improve the country’s labor relations and collective bargaining, MoneyWeb reports.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has new powers to intervene in strikes.

The body got 60 million rand ($5.18 million) from the National Treasury and new expert commissioners have been appointed.

On Jan. 23, 2014, workers at South Africa’s major platinum producers – Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum – went on strike demanding that wages be doubled. Five months of striking later, they settled for a more modest salary increase over three years. It was the longest, most expensive strike in South African history and cost the platinum industry around 1.2 million ounces of production, worth about 24 billion rand ($2.25 billion), according to Reuters.

Previously, the power of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration was limited in labor disputes — it had to get consent from affected parties in the dispute resolution process. The amended act makes it possible for the commission to intervene in long disputes without consent if it’s in the public interest, according to MoneyWeb.

If a wildcat strike occurs, the CCMA cannot stop it but now has the power to talk to affected parties and force them into mediation. If that doesn’t work, CCMA could use the influence of stakeholders and pressure groups to bring parties back to the negotiating table, according to MoneyWeb.

Nerine Kahn, director of the CCMA, said the body was criticized for failure to solve and end the five-month platinum strike, but the law at the time limited its powers.

In past strikes, parties conducted mediation talks who had no training in dispute resolution or were familiar with just one style of negotiation, according to Johan Botes, director of employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, one of the largest law firms in South Africa.

The CCMA’s new mandate would encourage shorter strikes, according to the United Association of South Africa (UASA). One of South Africa’s oldest trade unions, UASA represents 72,000 members.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is the largest of the three major trade unions with 1.8 million members.