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Why do unions still demand double digit wage increases?

Given an inflation rate of 4,3% and economic growth rate of less than 1%, it would be reasonable to expect that unions and workers would adjust their demands to more realistic positions (one or two percentage points above inflation). In recent times, many employers have “stuck to their guns” and sat out the strikes that followed after disputes were deadlocked on offers of wage increases closer to CPI.

The reality is that South Africans are experiencing a poverty nightmare with more than 55% of the population living below the poverty line with a monthly income of less than R1,227. Approximately 40% of our labour force are currently unemployed. An alarming 55% of our youth (15 to 24 year olds) are unemployed with little chance of getting employment and facing a fading future.

South Africa’s education system is producing huge numbers of young people with school, college and university “certificates” but who unfortunately do not have the relevant knowledge, skills or attitude required by the modern workplace. The large number of skilled people leaving South Africa is a further stimulus adding to our inability the grow the economy and create much needed jobs.

As a country we have seen the effect of state capture, wide-spread corruption and numerous systems collapsing (basic services, law enforcement, SOE’s etc.). Citizens are tired of empty promises by politicians and people in leadership positions. There has been a steep rise in public protest and people taking to the street as a last resort to make their voices heard.

Many of the employed are trapped in unskilled and semi-skilled positions on lower job grades. Most of them are earning wages on or just above the statutory minimum wage and have been in the same position for many years.  Due to a lack of skills, they have very little chance of promotion and a better future.

The workplace and wage negotiations are seen as their last chance to make their voices heard, even if it is to their own detriment. It is almost as if a culture of hopelessness is spreading through the country with the workplace as a battlefield for what the unions and workers see as a just cause! The employers are an entity/person they can identify, talk to and who have the ability to change their circumstance.

Wage negotiations require insight and a high level of facilitation skills to manage the vulnerable relationship between lower level employees and their employers.

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